Kavanaugh is confirmed to high court as divisions, protests roil Senate

As protesters chanted “Shame!” outside, Brett Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed for a pivotal Supreme Court vacancy by the Senate, whose partisan divisions mirror those of a country sharply split over the nominee and allegations of sexual assault in his past.

The 50-48 vote was at the center of a swirl of political activity: senators positioning themselves for November re-election bids, President Donald Trump declaring a “big day for America!” and demonstrators — including some inside the Senate chamber — angrily denouncing the vote as evidence that women’s voices are not heeded.

Kavanaugh, Trump’s second appointment to the high court, will fill the seat of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was a decisive vote on such issues as same-sex marriage and the Trump administration’s travel ban affecting Muslim-majority nations. Democrats have expressed concern that Kavanaugh could give the court a conservative bent for a generation.

A number of women were removed from the Senate visitors’ gallery after shouting protests — “Shame on you” and “American women deserve better” — once the vote began. A few tried to sit down and were commanded to stand and be led out.

Vice President Mike Pence was presiding in case his vote was needed to break a tie.

“Judge Brett Kavanaugh is among the very best our nation has to offer,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. He said the confirmation would send a message that the Senate was not about “personal destruction” but was a place “where the evidence and the facts matter.”

But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Kavanaugh’s appointment, and a process that Democrats said was unfairly rushed, would go down as “a flashing red warning light of what to avoid.”

Schumer called Kavanaugh’s approval “a low moment for the Senate, for the court, for the country” and urged Americans feeling “deep anguish” to express their disapproval at the ballot box.

McConnell said he called to congratulate Kavanaugh following the closest such vote since 1881.

“I applaud and congratulate the U.S. Senate for confirming our GREAT NOMINEE, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to the United States Supreme Court,” tweeted Trump, who was headed to a rally in Kansas. “Later today, I will sign his Commission of Appointment, and he will be officially sworn in. Very exciting!”

Kavanaugh was sworn in later Saturday.

The vote followed last month’s testimony by Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor. She told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh assaulted her, tried to remove her clothing and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. Both were students at private Montgomery County high schools at the time.

Kavanaugh denied the accusations of Blasey Ford and those of Deborah Ramirez, who also accused him of sexual misconduct.

The Senate stayed through Friday night and into Saturday so members could deliver speeches, often to a mostly-empty chamber, until the final vote.

Some of the speeches were unusually personal, reflecting the emotions surrounding a nomination that, for many women, tapped into the #MeToo campaign about standing up to sexual abuse.

“I have received written statements from over 50 Marylanders telling me about the sexual abuse they had encountered,” Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen said in his floor speech.

“Some of them told me they had shared with me what they had not shared with their own family members,” said Van Hollen. “They tell me they remember the clothing they wore the day they were assaulted. They tell me they remember the scent, the cologne.”

Van Hollen, a Democrat, read from a few of the accounts on the floor.

One read: “Once I was 16. I was at a party. There was alcohol. He was popular, I wasn’t. He was big and strong, I have never been. He threatened me afterwards. He needn’t have bothered. He told me no one would believe me. He told me I wanted it. I showed a friend the bruises. He said everyone would say I was a slut.”

In an interview, Van Hollen called the statements “powerful, overwhelmingly emotional accounts that really move you.”

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, also a Democrat, said in an interview that his office has also received “specific telephone calls and emails from women who have experienced sexual assault.”

Cardin said a woman from Maryland stopped him recently in the hallway of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. “She went into a detailed explanation of a horrible sexual assault. You’re thinking, ‘What do you do next?’ Your heart is broken,” Cardin said.

Cardin and Van Hollen each voted “no,” and both questioned whether Kavanaugh could be an impartial justice.

Before the vote, a crowd gathered outside on the stairs to the Capitol, against the directive of police. The protesters seemed ready to be arrested, and many were — with police taking them off the stairs one by one. Some held a single fist in the air as they were marched off. The arrests were accompanied by chants from the crowd, including, “Arrest sexual predators, not protesters!”

Many demonstrators assembled across the street at the Supreme Court, where the signs included “Kava Nope” and “Georgetown Perp,” a reference to Georgetown Prep, Kavanaugh’s high school.

Daisy Sears, 22; Catherine Scudder, 23; and Lucie Vleugels, 22, all of Annapolis, were planning to go to the Renaissance Festival on Saturday. But they decided to “storm the Capitol” instead, Vleugels said.

Vleugels said she wanted to be here for those friends who have been sexually assaulted and couldn’t be here, to add her voices to those of the survivors in attendance.

Scudder said it was her first protest in Washington. “It’s very moving. I had chills all over my body. I felt so empowered,” she said.

Protesters chanted “Shame, shame, shame” after Kavanaugh’s confirmation was announced.

There were screaming matches between pro- and anti-Kavanaugh groups after a pro-Kavanaugh man with a bullhorn led a contingent of supporters into the crowd.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the only Republican to oppose confirmation. She voted “present” on Saturday in a gesture of goodwill to Montana Republican Steve Daines, a Kavanaugh supporter who was attending his daughter’s wedding. The procedural maneuver is known as “pairing.”

For all of Saturday’s drama, analysts said the outcome was probably about the same as it would have been before Blasey Ford’s testimony — a fitting outcome, they said, for a Congress whose members seem increasingly dug in. The outcome hinged largely on a handful of senators, including West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Maine Republican Susan Collins. Both voted for confirmation..

“Ninety-five senators were already locked in,” said Larry Sabato, a politics professor at the University of Virginia. “They would have voted the same way, in all probability, a week ago. I suspect Manchin was always going to find a way to vote yes, given his state’s overwhelming Trump edge.”

jebarker@baltsun.com

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