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Kavanaugh And Christine Blasey Ford Testify Before Senate Judiciary Committee


A day of drama and history on Capitol Hill today. To talk it through, we want to bring in NPR political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben. Hey, Danielle.


KELLY: Hello. And we want to bring back our congressional correspondent Scott Detrow, who has been inside that Dirksen Senate hearing room all day today. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, good afternoon.

KELLY: Hey. Scott. I'm going to ask you, actually, to go back to this morning and start near...


KELLY: ...The beginning. I want to play a long chunk of Christine Blasey Ford's testimony. This is from her opening statement. She describes in graphic detail what she says happened the night that Kavanaugh - or Brett, as she calls him, assaulted her.


CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: Brett and Mark came into the bedroom and locked the door behind them. There was music playing in the bedroom. It was turned up louder by either Brett or Mark once we were in the room. I was pushed onto the bed, and Brett got on top of me. He began running his hands over my body and grinding into me. I yelled, hoping that someone downstairs might hear me. And I tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy.

KELLY: Christine Blasey Ford testifying this morning. And Scott Detrow, it's hard to listen to. It goes without saying. How did people there in Dirksen room 226 react as she was testifying?

DETROW: I think everyone in the room found it hard to listen to as well. The whole room was deeply, emotionally affected by her. There were a lot of tears. And the senators on both sides were very respectful. Of course, the Republican senators chose not to ask her any questions at all. But Rachel Mitchell who did the questioning - there were some challenging questions at times, questions about her memory. But it was never confrontational. And that's just such a different tone from this afternoon, which has become fiercely partisan and incredibly tense.


Scott, can we unpack that a little bit? What was Brett Kavanaugh's actual response to her specific allegation?

DETROW: Well, it was in two parts. One part was what we've been hearing the last few days, what he was saying on Fox News, what he said in the letter to the Senate - that he just didn't do this, that he wasn't at the party, that he's never acted this way in his life, that he's never sexually assaulted anyone and that he doesn't question that maybe Ford was assaulted at some point. But it wasn't by him.

And then there was a second unexpected tone to his opening statement and his response today where he went on the attack. He said that the Democrats have turned the process into a circus, that they are out to destroy his reputation, destroy his life. And in questions from Democrats, he has not acted as the typical judicial nominee, acting like a detached, measured, umpire of balls and strikes as he said in that earlier hearing. He has been a political warrior going toe to toe with the senators questioning him.

CORNISH: NPR political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben here as well. And I want to bring you in because when you hear what Kavanaugh's - his lashing out was like - right? - against Senate Democrats, what had been...


CORNISH: ...Their strategy walking into this?

KURTZLEBEN: As far as Kavanaugh, I mean, their strategy - there were a couple of strands to it. One was to stress that this investigation, this process, has not gone the way that they wanted it to. You heard over and over again, would you, Mr. Kavanaugh, like there to be an FBI investigation? And he kind of demurred. He said if the committee would like it, then yes. Well, that would be up to, you know, the White House to decide. Aside from that, I mean, they also really questioned him heavily on his drinking in high school and on that yearbook. There was a big blown-up photo of his yearbook entry which referenced drinking and so on. And they really, really tried to pin him down on what kind of a person he was to girls in high school and...

CORNISH: Right, trying to decipher all the references.

KURTZLEBEN: Absolutely. There was a lot of very minute questioning about inside jokes in high school at one point.

KELLY: And before we move on from this morning's testimony from Ford and flip you to talking about Kavanaugh testifying this afternoon, a question. Scott, you mentioned Rachel Mitchell, this veteran Arizona prosecutor who'd been brought in to do the questioning for Republicans. And this afternoon, it's Republicans questioning Kavanaugh. What happened? Did they dump her? Where'd she go?

DETROW: She's still there waiting to ask questions, but she hasn't been used since the second round of questioning. She asked questions for Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch. But since Lindsey Graham started asking questions and really went on the attack, she has just been sitting there waiting to ask questions again. You know, I can't wait to talk to voters about how they responded to Republicans choosing to have her ask the questions for them. In the room, it was awkward. The body language - to see Republican senators sitting there staring straight ahead, their arms crossed, somber faces and not engaging with Ford at all. Certainly, you can see the flip side, though, how bad politically it would be for them to confront her, to question her. The 1991 Anita Hill hearings were viewed as a disaster for senators on both sides trying to undermine Anita Hill.

KELLY: You mentioned Lindsey Graham, and that's got to be one of the electric moments from this afternoon. So let's just hear a quick taste of that. This is Lindsey Graham. As you say, he took over the questioning, and he went for it. Here he is.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: This is the most unethical sham since I've been in politics. And if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn't have done what you've done to this guy. Are you a gang rapist?


CORNISH: Danielle Kurtzleben, this is a moment where Lindsey Graham also was talking a lot about politics and how this looks. And it just seemed like he was speaking to an audience of voters. Can you talk about what people were thinking about going into this hearing, the divide in the public?

KURTZLEBEN: Absolutely. I mean, a lot of people were thinking about Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. And one thing I haven't been able to stop thinking about with regard to this is that, you know, Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas - those hearings set off the elections in 1992 which we now think back to as the year of the women. It was a year in which the number of women in Congress, which was very small at the time, went up after those elections because women, particularly Democrats, were so energized. Donald Trump's election already had sort of sparked that - set the stage for that this year. Well, depending on how people - voters viewed today's hearings, this very well could be lighter fluid on top of all of that, specifically among liberal and Democratic women who are, right now, energized is the polite political word we use. But honestly, many of them are absolutely furious.

CORNISH: Scott Detrow, to follow up on this, as the testimony has progressed this afternoon, now you have Kavanaugh kind of facing off with lawmakers. How has he been speaking to Democrats?

DETROW: In a very combative way. He's challenging them. He's turning the questions back on them. Did you drink in high school? Did you ever play fraternity-style drinking games? Do you have a drinking problem? Questions like that, being really confrontational, being flip at times. He seems to be taking the political calculus that this has become partisan. So he is going to act partisan. He has roots in the Bush White House. He has roots on Ken Starr's team during the impeachment battles of the '90s. And he's chosen to play those cards.

KELLY: Scott, just to play just a tiny touch of Democrats questioning Kavanaugh. Let me play you a little taste. This is Senator Dick Durbin asking Kavanaugh, would you support an FBI investigation? And here's the answer he got.


KAVANAUGH: I welcome whatever the committee wants to do 'cause I'm telling the truth.

DICK DURBIN: I want to know what you want to do.

KAVANAUGH: I'm telling the truth.

DURBIN: I want to know what you want to do, Judge.

KAVANAUGH: I'm innocent. I'm innocent of this charge.

DURBIN: Then you're prepared for an FBI investigator?

KAVANAUGH: They don't reach conclusions. You reach the conclusion, Senator.

DURBIN: No, but they do investigate questions.

KELLY: Senator Durbin then said, you can't have it both ways, Judge. You can't be innocent and at the same time not want to back an FBI investigation. Danielle, this was a theme we heard repeated all through the afternoon.

KURTZLEBEN: Absolutely. I mean, we heard about a - we heard about FBI investigations while Ford was testifying and when Kavanaugh was testifying. And later on, you know, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware added one more thing onto this. He added, you know, if you are confirmed, I fear this could throw the credibility of the court into question.

KELLY: All right. Lots more to keep track of from today's hearing. That is NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben and NPR's Scott Detrow unpacking a momentous day on Capitol Hill. Thanks very much to you both.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you.

DETROW: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.