Democrats don’t have the votes to stop Brett Kavanaugh, so they turned his Supreme Court confirmation hearing into a spectacle.
Protesters dressed up in costumes from the dystopian TV drama “The Handmaid’s Tale,” dozens were arrested after interrupting proceedings in the Senate Judiciary Committee and one senator compared himself to Spartacus after daring his colleagues to expel him for releasing supposedly confidential emails from Kavanaugh that had actually been declassified hours earlier.
But the Parkland shooting also played a role in arguments against Kavanaugh’s supposedly genial personality and future rulings on gun issues if confirmed to the lifetime position on the nation’s highest court.
Aalayah Eastmond, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Eastmond recounted in detail her experience on Valentine’s Day, when she hid beneath Nicholas Dworet’s body to shield herself from the bullets. At least one senator, Cory Booker of New Jersey, was in tears.
Then she turned to Fred Guttenberg’s snubbed handshake from earlier in the week, when the Supreme Court nominee declined to shake the hand of the Parkland parent and gun control activist whose daughter Jaime was among the victims.
“If Kavanaugh doesn’t even have the decency to shake hands with a father of a victim, he definitely won’t have the decency to make life-changing decisions that affect real people,” Eastmond testified.
Kavanaugh sat in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for more than 32 hours this week during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, but the 10-second moment with Guttenberg stands out.
On Tuesday, Guttenberg approached Kavanaugh to introduce himself and shake his hand. As Kavanaugh buttoned up his jacket, he turned around and saw Guttenberg approaching, but he did not shake his hand. He walked away as Guttenberg said, “Hi, I’m Fred Guttenberg. My daughter was murdered in Parkland.”
The handshake snub, captured on photo and video, stands as a counterargument to Kavanaugh backers, who have tried to portray him as a family man who cares deeply about serving his community.
“Kavanaugh will forever be known as the guy who turned his back,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and former Hillary Clinton spokesperson. “I think the biggest revelation of the week is going to be some of these emails, the questions about [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller and about Roe [V. Wade], but the most revealing moment of the week will be how Kavanaugh responded when he turned his back.”
Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat who represents Parkland in Washington, said Guttenberg’s moment was so powerful because it wasn’t clearly scripted like a protester who interrupts the hearing by shouting. He simply walked across the room, stuck out his hand and introduced himself to Kavanaugh in the same way he’s done to thousands over the past six months.
“The reason that moment resonated so much was because there were no prepared talking points, there was not discussion of judicial decisions, there was no need for historical perspective,” Deutch said. “It was just a raw moment of humanity.”
White House representatives argued that security intervened when Guttenberg approached Kavanaugh, though there was a period of time where no one was between the pair. During his allotted time to question Kavanaugh, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham gave Kavanaugh the opportunity to speak directly to some of the activists at the hearing, specifically mentioning Guttenberg and a woman who feared losing her healthcare. Kavanaugh responded broadly that there were strong emotions all around but did not directly address Guttenberg.
But widespread protests cannot stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation. To kill the nomination, Democrats would have to all vote against him and two Republicans need to break with their party. Eyes are on Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who have said they won’t support a nominee who is “hostile” toward Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans will not be swayed by “the heckler’s veto.”
Even if Kavanaugh’s nomination is successful, Fergerson argued that Guttenberg’s handshake dents any chance of a political victory for President Donald Trump, and hurts his support among suburban voters in communities like Parkland who care about stopping mass shootings.
“Kavanaugh turning his back just gave an image to the feelings everyone has had about the Republican response on guns since Parkland,” Fergerson said. “How does Marco Rubio boast to his voters about confirming a wildly unpopular judge who literally turned his back to parents worried about active shooters in their schools?”
Rubio had sharp words for critics of Kavanaugh, and his fellow senators, like New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker — who dared colleagues to expel him for releasing confidential documents that had already been released to the public hours earlier.
“Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings are an embarrassing indictment of our current political culture,” Rubio tweeted on Friday morning. “Deranged claims from the left that a highly credentialed long time circuit judge is a threat to our republic. The bad acting job by some Senators who know better. The D.C. bubble & radical left wing activists may be cheering you on. But back on planet earth you are embarrassing yourselves with unhinged disruptions, gotcha questions that disprove your attacks & claims of gladiator-like bravery for releasing documents that were already public.”
Democrats’ strategy to protest Kavanaugh ahead of the hearings was planned, and Guttenberg was an official guest of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the author of a bill that would ban assault weapons. But the handshake was so significant because Democrats couldn’t plan how Kavanaugh would react.
“By focusing on a few key questions like his oversight on the Mueller investigation, his allegiance to the NRA, his position on overturning the Affordable Care Act you can raise both awareness and generate energy and opposition,” Ferguson said. “You have to choose where to be most impactful and also be flexible when the nominee stands there on video and ... turns his back on a parent. That’s not something you can script.”