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House Republicans disappointed by 'total circus' Kavanaugh hearing

Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., speaks to WLUK on Capitol Hill on Sep. 5, 2018. (WLUK)

House Republicans expressed dismay Wednesday at the tone and theatrics of the first day of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearing.

“It seemed like a total circus to be completely honest with you,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis.

Kavanaugh appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, spending most of the day sitting in silence as lawmakers delivered opening statements, bickered with each other, and dealt with dozens of unruly protesters. He then delivered his own opening statement before the committee adjourned for the day.

Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., called the heated first day of the hearing “disappointing.”

“We’re hoping some civility comes to the Senate side and they just allow folks to talk and allow conversation to move, have legitimate questions and proceed the way they’re supposed to as adults,” he said before Wednesday’s session.

Dashing those hopes, day two kicked off with more protests and disruptions before senators began quizzing Kavanaugh on his views, his judicial philosophy, his career, and his relationship with the president.

“What we’re really trying to do is find somebody that’s going to interpret the Constitution as it is, not give their opinion. That doesn’t seem like what the Democrats on the Senate side are trying to do,” said Rep. Marwayne Mullin, R-Okla.

Democrats have been critical of Kavanaugh for his partisan background as an attorney on Kenneth Starr’s team investigating President Bill Clinton and as an aide to President George W. Bush. However, Kavanaugh, who has authored hundreds of opinions as a circuit court judge, has maintained throughout the confirmation process that he would be a fair and impartial jurist.

“I think Kavanaugh has a history of being a constitutionalist and I think that’s what the Supreme Court needs,” Mullin said.

As is often the case with Supreme Court confirmation hearings in recent decades, Kavanaugh declined to directly address his views on issues that could come before the court, insisting he would follow the law and respect precedent regardless of his personal views. Democrats were not convinced.

Kavanaugh engaged in an extended exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., over the Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed a woman’s right to have an abortion. Kavanaugh has publicly criticized that ruling in the past, but he did not say Wednesday if he would vote to uphold it if confirmed.

“This is an important time for the Senate to do their advise and consent role where they get a chance to ask questions of a potential justice and explore their judicial philosophy, so my hope is that they’ll have decorum,” said Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich., Wednesday as questioning got underway.

Democrats have accused Republicans of rushing Kavanaugh’s confirmation, questioning why the majority of his writings from his time on the White House staff are being withheld and why tens of thousands of pages of records were dumped on lawmakers one day before the hearing began. Republicans say much of his work was protected by executive privilege and there is no need to delay hearings to provide documents to senators who already decided to vote against him.

Rep. Gallagher lamented the increasingly partisan nature of the confirmation process, citing two possible reasons for hearings devolving into political food fights.

“One, you have an enormous number of senators trying to position themselves to run for president as opposed to just doing their job well,” he said.

He also pointed to an observation made by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., in his opening statement about the shifting responsibilities of the judiciary as Congress leaves more and more to be decided by the courts and the executive branch.

“Because we look to the executive and judicial branches to do the work of Congress and adjudicate all our disputes, it becomes inherently more politicized and that’s a trend we need to reverse,” Gallagher said.

Despite all the drama, Democrats have little chance of blocking Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Several Democratic senators up for reelection this fall in states that Trump won in 2016 are under intense pressure to support the president’s nominee, and none of the moderate Republicans who have met with Kavanaugh have expressed reservations about voting for him.

“I think he’s a great pick and I’m looking forward to actually seeing him on the bench,” Valadao said.

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