WASHINGTON — Just three days after Mitch McConnell vowed to “plow right through” the opposition to Brett Kavanaugh and install him on the Supreme Court, the halls of Congress filled with protesters invigorated by the latest allegations against the nominee. Their opposition had been slow to build, but by Monday afternoon, the momentum appeared to have swung back to Kavanaugh’s opponents, even if it will ultimately fall to a small group of senators to decide his fate.
After he was nominated by Trump in July, opponents made the case that Kavanaugh was unpalatable because of his views on reproductive choice, gun control and presidential power. But arguments about judicial philosophy failed to energize the various groups doing battle against the Trump administration. “The Campaign to Stop Brett Kavanaugh Struggles for Liftoff,” said a New York Times headline from mid-August.
Things had been scripted so perfectly from the start, in large part by former Fox News executive Bill Shine, now the White House communications director. As Kavanaugh’s admiring wife and two daughters looked on at the White House ceremony when his nomination was announced, the nominee spoke about his mother, a “trailblazer” who had taught African-American students in Washington in the 1970s. He noted that he had been an altar boy, and with his full of head of hair and ruddy cheeks, he still had the appearance of one. “I am proud that a majority of my law clerks have been women,” he said. His daughters played basketball, and he coached them.
Three months later, all this seems rather grotesque to the Americans who believe the sexual assault allegations about him. Christine Blasey Ford — a Northern California professor, says he tried to rape her at a Washington-area house party in the 1980s when they were in high school. On Sunday, the New Yorker published an account of a second woman, a classmate from Yale named Deborah Ramirez, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.
Monday’s show of force on Capitol Hill was intended to remind the senators who will ultimately vote on Kavanaugh’s fate that none of this will be forgotten. The protests were led, in part, by Ohad “Ady” Barkan, a wheelchair-bound 34-year-old father dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. He and others filled the Russell and Hart Senate Office Buildings, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Be A Hero,” the name of Barkan’s campaign. They were joined by more than 100 students from Yale Law School, from which Kavanaugh graduated.
The heroes in question are the Republicans who, Kavanaugh’s opponents believe, could vote against him. Some protesters carried a message for Susan Collins, the moderate Maine senator who is reportedly undecided on Kavanaugh: “Vote No,” their placards said, “Or we will fund your future opponent.”
Collins has previously bristled at such tactics, which she described as bribery. This, however, seemed closer to a threat. It was also indicative of a growing dismay at Kavanaugh’s nomination. One recent poll found that only 34 percent of Americans supported his nomination. And that was before the new allegations.
A third accuser may be waiting in the wings, waiting to tell her story. Michael Avenatti, who represents adult film actress Stormy Daniels, announced over the weekend that he was representing another accuser from Kavanaugh’s high school days. Though some were skeptical, Avenatti told Yahoo News that any suggestion that he was seeking attention was “outrageous.”
“I don’t need any more publicity,” Avenatti said in a text message, adding that the accuser has been “thoroughly vetted.”
So far, the two known accusations against Kavanaugh are unproven, and given that both incidents allegedly occurred more than 30 years ago, they may remain so. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations in a number of indignant statements. Dozens of women have testified to his good character. So has Trump. “Judge Kavanaugh is an outstanding person, and I am with him all the way,” Trump said on Monday morning after the second accusation broke.
Were the nomination to fail, the president mused, it would constitute “one of the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything.”
None of this has proved convincing to detractors, who have increasingly come to regard Kavanaugh much as they do Trump: as child of privilege, a scion of the patriarchy, a courtier in the halls of power, waiting to take his own place. Many critics of Kavanaugh have come to view him as a symbol shaped by the very same forces that helped elect Trump.
More than 100 of Monday’s protesters were eventually arrested outside Collins’s office and in the rotunda of the Russell Building, an anticipated and jubilant capstone to an event that appeared to have gotten the publicity it sought. “We believe Dr. Ford,” the protesters chanted as U.S. Capitol Police bound them with plastic restraints and led them out of the building, into the rain, toward a waiting bus.
About three hours after most of the protesters departed, McConnell took to the Senate floor to denounce Democrats’ handling of the Kavanaugh nomination as “despicable.” The accusations against Kavanaugh, he said, were nothing but a “smear.” McConnell promised a vote on Kavanaugh in the “near future.” But there was no more talk of plowing through. By Monday, the once-smooth nomination of Brett Kavanaugh had become a slog.
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