This is a watershed moment for the GOP. A President who boasted about sexual assault has nominated a judge for an empty Supreme Court seat -- and a woman has accused that judge of physical and sexual assault, an accusation he vehemently denies. The outcome of the hearings could decide the fate of women's bodily autonomy for the foreseeable future.
Initially, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may have tried to persuade Trump to nominate two other judges instead of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Why? Because, according to the New York Times, McConnell was concerned about Kavanaugh's long paper trail, which includes millions of pages detailing his time on the bench and working in the George W. Bush White House. McConnell, according to sources who briefed the Times, had little desire to revisit the Bush-era controversies, including the use of enhanced interrogation techniques -- aka torture -- which Kavanaugh upheld the use of in several cases.
And though McConnell lost that battle, his party quickly united around Kavanaugh, moving his confirmation process along at warp speed. Shortly after Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary committee, referred the woman's allegation of sexual misconduct by the Supreme Court nominee to the FBI, Republican Chuck Grassley, chair of the Judiciary committee, released a letter in which 65 women vouched for Kavanaugh's character in high school.
This potentially indicates that, after a rushed confirmation hearing process, some within the Republican Party may have known of this allegation and moved forward with his nomination nonetheless. If so, this further proves that Senate Republicans are utterly out of step with the #MeToo generation.
Going forward, Republicans are faced with a spectrum of terrible options. They could continue to rush through the confirmation process and attempt to discredit the alleged victim -- Christine Blasey Ford, a professor in California, who offered the Washington Post a detailed account of what she describes as her traumatic experience and its aftermath, and even passed a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent.
If they do so, they may lose crucial Republican votes, which they cannot afford in the current 51-49 split. If they don't lose enough votes to confirm Kavanaugh, Republicans may pay the price this November, thanks to a fired up Democrat electorate and already growing group of disgruntled independents. Meanwhile, the endless onslaught of scandals could depress the turnout of even dyed-in-the wool Republican women.
Their other option is to slow down the confirmation process and allow Ford to testify about her experience, which will offer the nation a test -- to see how far we've come since the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings 27 years ago. At that time, an all-male Senate judiciary committee ruled in favor of Thomas and dismissed the accusations of Hill, a Yale-educated law professor, who had accused Thomas of sexual harassment while they worked at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Notably, Hill has called for a "fair and neutral" process to investigate the claim against Kavanaugh.
Ford's testimony could stand as a harrowing indictment of Kavanaugh's abject unfitness to sit on the Supreme Court. After all, her allegation is not one of a merely inappropriate comment, but of sexual assault. If true, in a just world, the price for allegedly holding a girl down, attempting to remove her clothes, turning up music so no one can hear her protests, and muffling her screams until she manages to escape, should be quite high.
Furthermore, if Republican senators attempt to impugn her character, they will disgrace themselves in the eyes of the American people. Public opinion, however, is unlikely to view his alleged crime with such clemency.
Yes, Republicans could gamble that the nation that heard the "Access Hollywood" tape and still elected Donald Trump will vote this November in favor of his party. While Trump didn't deny the statements on the tape, he did deny he put his words into action. However, at least 15 women have accused Trump of much more than sleazy words -- and he has denied each allegation. And, yes, Kavanaugh denies the accusation that was made against him when he -- unlike Trump -- was still a minor.
That said, the allegation against Kavanaugh is far more severe -- it's based on action, not just words -- and is more likely to ignite the civic passions of people who may have sat out the last election because they did not feel enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton.
Anyone can make unfounded allegations to try and thwart someone's career and, if it isn't true, the person shouldn't be summarily dismissed. However, if further testimony corroborates Ford's claim, the only way Republicans stand a chance in the upcoming elections, and in the judgment of history, is to take an unequivocal stand against predators on the Supreme Court and in the White House.
TIP OF THE WEEK
FINDING COMMON GROUND WITH PEOPLE WHO DISAGREE WITH YOU
As a lifelong Democrat, I can find it hard to listen dispassionately to Republicans. Sometimes, I find it even harder to listen dispassionately to people within my own party with whom I disagree.
The giant tent of the Democratic Party is a beautiful thing, but the internecine conflicts that can consume us all too often make us snatch defeat from the jaws of certain victory.
The Democratic in-fighting during the 2016 primaries -- replayed in microcosm during the DNC chair elections -- made me fear that we Democrats could spoil our own opportunities with purity tests and issue-by-issue handwringing (what I like to call “à la carte democracy”) that distracts us from our bigger shared goals and common threats.
Republicans fall into lock step to achieve victory. This is one reason among many that they have beaten us so badly in local, state, gubernatorial, and congressional elections over the past decade.
If we want to make big gains in 2018 and 2020, we will have to advance based on common ground, not only within the left, but by making room for those in the center and on the center right who are deeply disillusioned by Trump’s GOP. We must live by the old protest chant, “The people united will never be defeated.”
Of course, in-fighting does exist on the right, as well. When Republican Hawaii State Representative Beth Fukumoto, at the time only 33, refused to stop criticizing Donald Trump’s rhetoric about minorities and women, she found herself stripped of her House Minority Leader status.
She wanted to leave the Republican party altogether, but put the decision in the hands of her constituents and they voted to let her defect.
On the phone before he constituents’ vote, she told me:
I said in my Women’s March speech, ‘Regardless of where you stand on who you voted for, I think we can all agree that the tone of this campaign was dangerous and filled with hate and anger.’ My niece is 8 years old and watched a convention full of people boo me for saying, “Hey, Donald Trump is not nice.”
And she watched them boo me for ten minutes. And we had to tell her that you stand up to bullies. These people were standing up for a bully, but you always have to stand up to bullies. I talked about this in my speech, after all of that, after all we teach our kids about being kind and standing up for what’s right. We elected a man who does none of that. It’s our responsibility as Americans to dial back some of that rhetoric and show our kids that we can be civil to each other.
The party had elected me as Minority Leader knowing that I held these opinions. Getting booed at the convention had happened six months earlier. It wasn’t until I joined the Women’s March that they kicked me out [of my position]. It wasn’t necessarily what I had to say. It was the venue that it was. It came down to it was the Women’s March.
Beyond intra-party conflicts, I asked her about bridging the bigger divides between the Left and the Right in this country. Many of us have felt that tension within our own families or have lost friends over it.
Rep. Fukumoto offers a refreshingly unifying approach to the political discourse.
I think even as a Republican there are a lot of issues I can agree with progressives on. The term was invented by a Republican. I’ve never seen the reason why Republicans can’t also get along with progressives because we do have things in common. Because of my unique voice in the party – there are very few women, millennials, Asian-Americans, minority women at all – I was in a place to say something when nobody else seemed to be saying something.
I asked Rep. Fukumoto how progressives can reach across the aisle work with Republicans who disagree with President Trump. How do we begin that conversation?
Here were her answers:
· Start with Why They Voted For Him - I think it’s always trying to identify. It’s not demonizing each other, even if you disagree vehemently with the fact that somebody voted for Donald Trump. Did they believe the things he said? Or was it a sense of fear? Or concern for the economic future?
· Pinpoint your Shared Fears and Shared Values - It doesn’t help us to demonize Trump voters, as people who didn’t support Donald Trump for president. What happened to America that almost half the population decided to vote for this guy who doesn’t represent American values? What were they so afraid of? Find points of agreement.
· Pinpoint your Shared Goals - This was a revolt – the middle class and lower middle class have felt sidelined by the most wealthy and the poorest individuals. And while we end up not taxing the most wealthy, we end up taxing the middle class to help the poorest individuals. It creates greater economic disparity. Trump was saying, ‘No we have to take care of the middle class, we have to take care of the working class.’ Those guys have been largely ignored for the last eight years. What can we do as progressives, regardless of party, to bring economic justice back into America? That’s something we can work on together.
· Start with Minorities Who Voted Republican, But Were Torn - What’s frustrating, and I have close family that are minorities that voted for Donald Trump because they’re social conservatives. In talking to one of them, they said to me that they felt that they were making a decision between their religion and their safety as a minority. And they chose the safety as a religion over personal safety as a minority.
Even for those who voted for Donald Trump as a minority, there is a deep, deep fear that while he may respect their religious values, he doesn’t respect them as a person. Now that he’s won, the fear is that people specifically in the South who have a white supremacist viewpoint are going to feel that they have free reign to take us back. Most minorities said, ‘I am going to say I pick my safety.’ But for those who picked religion and are still scared, they are our potential allies.
· Religion Has No Political Party - I have a religious background also. This is a problem in the Republican party in general. It claims that it is the more God-friendly party. What I regularly raise with them is the Biblical passage about the different fruits [of the spirit]: ‘love, joy, self-control.’ I cannot pick one of those that Donald Trump exemplifies. And I’ve had this conversation with fellow Christians. Do not say to me that this is God’s candidate. People that realize that think, ‘Well the Supreme Court nominations.’ They think the Supreme Court has been voting too liberally. More than anything else, that’s what I heard from people the most.
· Pinpoint the Rights You Both Care About - The way I would describe it, especially for minorities, people had to look at it as voting between different rights. Some chose religion and some chose their safety as a minority. What is so unfortunate about this election is that people had to pick which rights they were going to get because some were going to be taken away. And that is a sad state of affairs for America.
· Put Country Before Party - I think what we really really need is more voter engagement, but voter engagement that is not coming from a place of anger. This entire election was driven by anger and hate. On the Democrat side now, you can’t have that same anger and hate toward Republican voters. You have to have respect. We have to be able to respect each other’s perspectives. One of the biggest things we need to do is make sure we’re teaching civics in school.
· Let Young Voters Know It Doesn’t Have to be Like This - I just attended an event with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When she was confirmed in the Senate, only three voted no. After her, the justices were one-hundred-percent confirmed. It wasn’t that long ago. It shouldn’t take that much to get back there. But I think we run the risk of kids and especially teenage voters, we run the risk of them believing this is the way things were. We have to teach them it’s not the way it always was.
· Let Millennials Know Change Starts with their Vote - I have the hope that when Millennials start voting (it’s my generation and I know we’re not voting at high rates), we will be more socially conscious, more tolerant of each other. I don’t think we realize how much influence we can have because we don’t realize it actually makes a difference, but it absolutely does. I hope this election is the wake up call our generation needs.