Bill Whalen

Sen. Kamala Harris gets a big gift with Supreme Court fight

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), joined by fellow Democratic Senators, at a news conference where they voiced their opposition to President Donald Trumps Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, July 10, 2018. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), joined by fellow Democratic Senators, at a news conference where they voiced their opposition to President Donald Trumps Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, July 10, 2018. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times) NYT

Under the heading “better to be lucky than good,” I give you Sen. Kamala Harris.

She doesn’t have much of a record in her two years in Washington, D.C., other than saying yes to appearances in early-primary states and – when she’s not being rudely interrupted by exasperated Republicans in Intelligence Committee hearings – welcoming comparisons to Barack Obama as the Democratic Party’s telegenic, multicultural future.

 
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But thanks to an act of a fellow Californian – Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement – Harris’s 2020 stock is up. That’s because she sits on the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, which allows to her grill Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

And grill she will.

But what about Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat?

Will DiFi turn out to be DiFighter, burrowing into such weighty matters as guaranteed health care, women’s reproductive rights and Kavanaugh’s views on judicial precedent?

Or will she be DiLighter, willing to cede the heavy lifting to Harris and the other two Democratic women on the committee?

Rest assured that a host of disaffected Democrats – the same folks who refused to give Feinstein her state party’s endorsement for re-election this year – will be watching and waiting for something forceful.

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A better hearing might be Feinstein questioning…Feinstein.

She once openly defied her party by defending the death penalty. Now, she opposes it. She once opposed legal recreational marijuana. Now that pot is legal in California, she’s blaze-ez faire – toke ’em if you got ’em.

In a better world, Feinstein and Harris would skip the made-for-television theatrics in Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. But that world hasn’t existed since Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, and that’s a shame.

Yes, Kavanaugh should be pushed on his past assertions that presidents should be shielded from investigation while in office. He should be questioned about the Supreme Court settling political battles (California, with its slap-happy approach to suing the Trump administration, is a lead offender).

Done right, Kavanaugh’s vetting covers those topics. Done wrong, it becomes a Festivus-like airing of Democratic grievances – his role in the Kenneth Starr investigation of Bill Clinton (he co-wrote the report that laid the groundwork for impeachment), the Elian Gonzales deportation (he represented the 6-year-old, pro bono) and the 2000 George W. Bush-Al Gore Florida recount (he was on the GOP legal team).

Only 53, Kavanaugh could be writing opinions for the next 30 years if he’s confirmed. And that sends the left deeper into the meltdown that began on election night 2016. Perhaps Hillary Clinton should have talked more about the election’s consequences on the Supreme Court.

The Senate should spare an exhausted electorate from more bad kabuki and wait for the 2020 presidential election to ramp up the talk about how the winner likely gets to choose replacements for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg (age 85) and Breyer (nearly 80).

Harris, however, isn’t likely to pass up this opportunity. The same may prove true for Feinstein. It’s far easier for her to appease the left by attacking Kavanaugh than socializing with the socialists back home.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.

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