California’s two U.S. senators played leading roles in the must-see drama watched Thursday by millions of Americans. But they were but actors in a play in which the ending appears pre-determined.
Under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist and professor at Palo Alto University, testified that she was “100 percent sure” that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982, when he was 17 and she was 15.
Testifying after Ford, Kavanaugh defiantly and categorically denied that he sexually assaulted Ford or anyone else. He lashed out at Democrats for fanning last-minute smears and destroying his life. The depth of his anger raises questions about whether he can be an impartial justice.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the allegations raise “a real question of character” and criticized Republicans for a “rush to judgment.” She and other Democrats have called on President Donald Trump to withdraw the nomination.
Sen. Kamala Harris – a former prosecutor, California attorney general and potential 2020 presidential hopeful – gave Kavanaugh one final opportunity to ask for an FBI investigation to seek the truth. It is telling that while Ford called for the FBI inquiry, Kavanaugh passed the buck to the committee.
Responding to Kavanaugh’s suggestion of a conspiracy against him, Harris pointed out that Neil Gorsuch has a similar background and was confirmed to the Supreme Court. “The only difference is you have been accused of sexual assault,” she said.
Despite the attempts by Harris and Feinstein to speak for many Californians, Thursday’s hearing was a sham in many ways.
Republicans had scheduled a committee vote for Friday even before listening to Kavanaugh and Ford. They also refused to let potential corroborating witnesses testify, refused to hear from two other women who made accusations against Kavanaugh and refused to ask the FBI to do even a cursory investigation.
And the 11 Republican men on the committee avoided questioning Ford themselves by delegating it to Rachel Mitchell, a veteran sex-crimes prosecutor from Arizona. She tried to poke holes in Ford’s account and raise questions about her motives for coming forward. But Mitchell, whose heart didn’t seem to be in the interrogation, was hurt by the hearing format – five minutes for her, then five minutes for a Democrat on the committee.
In response, Ford said she was “no one’s pawn.” She offered as corroboration her therapist’s notes from 2012 and results of a recent polygraph test.
While Ford’s account rang true, Republicans complained repeatedly abiout how Feinstein handled Ford’s initial letter on the allegations and on their timing. But it’s the Republicans who are trying to rush through Kavanaugh’s confirmation before the Supreme Court starts its new term in October and before the November election, when Democrats could retake control of the Senate.
Because the committee’s Republicans are proceeding without the FBI inquiry, Thursday’s hearing turned on judgments of the credibility of Ford and Kavanaugh.
If you believe Ford, then Kavanaugh committed perjury before the American people. If you believe Kavanaugh, then he’s right about “character assassination.”
Whoever you find most credible, though, both Ford and Kavanaugh were wronged by the process, as both Democrats and Republicans admitted. You had to feel compassion as they talked about what they and their families have gone through, or when Kavanaugh teared up when describing his 10-year-old daughter praying for Ford.
While they are difficult to find, there may be some saving graces from this tawdry spectacle. One is that victims of sexual assault in California and across the nation may be more willing to come forward, inspired by Ford’s courage.
Another is that, as happened after the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings led to the Year of the Woman in 1992, it will encourage even more women to run for office in California and elsewhere . Already a record number are running in November. The disrespectful way that Republican men treated Ford will be on the minds of many voters, men as well as women.