Fireworks as Kavanaugh confirmation hearings get underway

WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmation hearing for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh launched with a chaotic scene Tuesday morning as Democrats pushed to adjourn, and protesters repeatedly interrupted the proceedings.

The fireworks follow the late-night release of tens of thousands of documents related to Kavanaugh's time in the George W. Bush White House.

“The committee received just last night, less than 15 hours ago, 42,000 pages of documents that we have not had an opportunity to read, review or analyze,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said moments after the hearing opened. “We cannot possibly move forward with this hearing.”

Sen. Amy Klobluchar, D-Minn., chimed in, agreeing with Harris and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., then added, “Mr. Chairman, if we cannot be recognized, I move to adjourn...we had been denied real access to the real documents we need” and also said that Republicans have turned the hearing into a “mockery.”

Other Democrats began to add to the chorus of concerns, interrupting Grassley. “What are we trying to hide? Why are we rushing?” asked Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

As lawmakers pushed back on the panel, protesters in the hearing room interrupted the proceedings at least half a dozen times in the first few minutes of the hearing. "Please vote no! Please vote no!" yelled one as they were escorted from the room.

The hearing on Tuesday is focused only on opening statements by members of the committee and Kavanaugh.

"A good judge must be an umpire — a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy..." Kavanaugh was expected to say, according to excerpts of his opening statement released Tuesday morning. "I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences."

The statement was to include praise for Merrick Garland, the Obama high court nominee whom Republicans did not grant a Senate hearing, with Kavanaugh calling him a "superb chief judge" and, along with the rest of the judges he serves with "a colleague and a friend."

Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge based in Washington, is expected to face questions about whether he would overturn longstanding precedents, including the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision on abortion rights, Roe v. Wade. Democrats are also expected to grill Kavanaugh on his stance on executive power, his experience working with Clinton special prosecutor Ken Starr, and his time serving as White House staff secretary to President George W. Bush.

The 53-year-old nominee will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to listen to members’ opening statements and to deliver his own. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, will be among those who will formally introduce the nominee.

Senate Democrats had called for a delay in Kavanaugh's confirmation last month when Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to campaign finance violation and fraud charges, and when the president declined to rule out a pardon for Paul Manafort following the former Trump campaign manager's conviction on tax fraud and other felony charges.

They expressed concern about Kavanaugh's comments about executive power because they said he could help protect the president on several fronts, particularly the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Kavanaugh wrote in a Minnesota Law Review article in 2009 that it is “vital that the President be able to focus on his never-ending tasks with as few distractions as possible.”

“The country wants the President to be 'one of us' who bears the same responsibilities of citizenship that all share. But I believe that the President should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office,” Kavanaugh wrote.

He continued by arguing that President Bill Clinton could have lived without the distraction of the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and instead focused on Osama bin Laden.

He also made comments at a 2016 event in which he said that a 1978 ruling that creates a system for independent counsels to investigate government officials for federal crimes should be overturned.

Trump nominated Kavanaugh in early July, not long after Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had been considered the swing vote, announced his retirement. On Friday, the Trump administration announced that the White House pushed for the withholding of 100,000 documents from Kavanaugh’s White House record from Congress.

“We’re witnessing a Friday night document massacre. President Trump’s decision to step in at the last moment and hide 100,000 pages of Judge Kavanaugh’s records from the American public is not only unprecedented in the history of Supreme Court nominations, it has all the makings of a cover up,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement on Friday.

Then, late Monday night, former President George W. Bush's lawyer turned over 42,000 pages of documents from the nominee's White House service, sparking an angry response from Schumer, who called yet again for a delay.

“Not a single senator will be able to review these records before tomorrow,” he tweeted. The majority staff tweeted overnight that they had completed their review of all the documents.

The Judiciary Committee has 430,000 documents on a confidential basis, which have been reviewed by the staff of the committee's chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Of that batch, 287,000 have been made public, with Democrats expressing concern that documents relating to Kavanaugh’s job as Bush’s staff secretary were not being handed over to lawmakers. The panel has asked that the National Archives produce presidential records from Kavanaugh’s service as an executive branch lawyer and when he worked for Starr. Bush is also providing records on an expedited basis.

The next two days will bring several rounds of question-and-answer exchanges between senators and Kavanaugh, with the final day expected to focus on panels of legal experts who have been invited by both the majority and minority. The witnesses invited by Democrats include John Dean, President Richard M. Nixon’s White House counsel, who’s expected to discuss the abuse of executive power.

Senate Republicans are aiming to confirm Kavanaugh by the end of September, in time for the start of the Supreme Court’s next term in October. If every Democrat votes against him, Republicans can’t afford a single defection, especially now after the death of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The red state Democrats up for re-election in November will be key in determining whether Kavanaugh is confirmed