The fireworks began immediately as Senate Confirmation hearings got underway today for President Donald Trump's choice of federal appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court, as Democrats protested how documents had been withheld, and denounced a Labor Day dump of some 42,000 pages of Kavanaugh materials last night.
The hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee had barely started when Democrats repeatedly interrupted the Chairman of the panel, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), as demonstrators erupted in the audience, with Capitol Police hauling out multiple people as they yelled and shouted at Senators.
Stick with us today as we try to give you a flavor for what's going on inside the hearing room, outside the hearing room, and in the court of public opinion, as judge Brett Kavanaugh aims to replace the retired Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court.
5:00 pm - The first day is over, as Judge Kavanaugh gave his opening statement, vowing to be an independent member of the U.S. Supreme Court, and saying that the "Court must never be viewed as a partisan institution."
4:45 pm - President Trump has weighed in on today's hearings, blasting Democrats.
4:37 pm - It took a while, but Judge Brett Kavanaugh is now giving his opening statement. " I thank President Trump for the honor of this nomination. As a judge and as a citizen, I was deeply impressed by the President’s careful attention to the nomination process and by his thorough consideration of potential nominees," Kavanaugh said.
4:05 pm - After Sen. Graham praised President Trump for picking both Justice Neil Gorsuch and now Judge Brett Kavanaugh, there will be a short break. Senators will then hear several people introduce Kavanaugh, and Senators will finally hear his opening statement. Questions will start on Wednesday morning.
3:55 pm - Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) blasts Kavanaugh to his face, accusing him of being an ideologue. "I am concerned your loyalty would be to the President who appointed you, and not to the Constitution." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) then fired right back, calling such talk 'absurd.' "This is shaping up to be the hypocrisy hearing," Graham said, accusing Democrats of saying it's okay to nominate a liberal to the Supreme Court, but not a conservative.
2:40 pm - Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) says he agrees with earlier observations of Sen. Sasse, saying the Supreme Court has become too political. "I want a judge," Kennedy said. "I don't want a politician," as Kennedy says the Court "is not supposed to fix" the country. Since coming to the Senate, Kennedy has more than filled the empty role of a sharp-tongued-Southern-Senator, who routinely produces good quotes for reporters.
2:30 pm - Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) says he will directly ask Kavanaugh on how he would rule on Roe v. Wade and abortion. It's likely to be one of a number of efforts by Democrats to get Kavanaugh on the record - but don't expect much in the way of concrete answers - that's standard for Supreme Court nominees. But it's still a dance that goes on, and you never know what might be said when the question is asked.
2:20 pm - Two GOP Senators have now referenced Monday's tweet by President Trump, which registered his displeasure with Attorney General Jeff Sessions allowing indictments to go forward of two GOP lawmakers in the U.S. House. "They were wrong and they should be condemned," Sen. Sasse said of Mr. Trump's tweet. "I think it's very concerning," said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
1:40 pm - Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) bemoans the politicization of the U.S. Supreme Court. "It is not healthy," Sasse says, arguing that the Congress needs to do its job, rather than punting political disagreements to the courts. Sasse says if Americans see protestors in front of the Supreme Court, that is misplaced, arguing those demonstrators should be making their case to the Congress, which is a political branch. That plea comes as a storm suddenly pops up over the Capitol.
1:27 pm - Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) immediately challenges Grassley, again citing the 42,000 page document dump of last night. "This is not a normal confirmation hearing," she told Judge Kavanaugh.
1:17 pm - The panel is back in session. Sen. Grassley starts out with a defense of how the GOP has handled the document requests dealing with Judge Kavanaugh.
1:00 pm - The Senate Judiciary Committee has taken a lunch break. As I mentioned earlier, the hearing has taken on the feel of a regular Congressional hearing, though we are still having some screaming from people in the audience, who are quickly removed. After all Senators give their opening statements, there will be introductions of the judge, and then Kavanaugh will give his opening statement. Q&A won't start until Wednesday morning.
11:50 am - Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) greets Judge Kavanaugh, notes all of the outbursts and interruptions, calling it the "noise of democracy."
11:45 am - If you are wondering what people are yelling as they interrupt the Kavanaugh hearings, it's a mix of different things.
11:35 am - Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) accuses Kavanaugh of giving 'misleading' testimony in his previous confirmation hearing.
11:10 am - After about 90 minutes of verbal battles, the hearing has settled into a normal kind of Congressional gathering. Judge Kavanaugh is at the witness table listening to Senators give their opening statements. Chairman Grassley has indicated that Kavanaugh will give his opening statement later this afternoon. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says she thinks Kavanaugh is 'far outside the mainstream' when it comes to views on the Second Amendment.
11:00 am - Some thoughts from this reporter about the document issue. I'll let others fight about who is right and who is wrong on the production of documents related to Judge Kavanaugh. But what I did notice over recent weeks was that the Senate Judiciary Committee released documents multiple times late on a Friday, on Saturday, Sunday, or on a federal holiday like Labor Day. Maybe that kind of weekend stuff has happened before. But it struck me as notable.
10:50 am - Sen. Grassley starts giving his opening statement, and more demonstrators start popping up, screaming, yelling, and interrupting him, before they are escorted out of the hearing room. Over two dozen people have already been arrested.
10:45 am - Sen. Grassley tells Democrats that they can keep talking, but nothing is going to change. At this point, Judge Kavanaugh is expected to testify around 2:30 pm ET. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) says on Twitter that all the complaints from Democrats are just politics.
10:30 am - The mantra from Democrats is pretty basic about the documents on Judge Kavanaugh - "What are they hiding?" is the message being repeated by Democratic Senators, as they demand to know why the White House is asserting executive privilege over documents from Kavanaugh's time working for President George W. Bush. Democrats also say there are thousands of documents which they are not allowed to talk about in public.
10:25 am - Demonstrators continue to yell and scream during the hearing, and the Capitol Police are hustling them out of the hearing room in the Hart Senate Office Building. My colleague Lisa DesJardins of PBS says many of those seats are not being filled once people are hauled out.
10:20 am - Republicans say Democrats are simply trying to do anything they can to disrupt the hearings, knowing that they don't have the votes to stop Judge Kavanaugh in the Senate.
10:07 am - More screaming and yelling from the audience, as Sen. Grassley refuses to allow a vote on a motion to adjourn the committee. "This process will be tainted and stained forever," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
10:00 am - I have covered every Supreme Court nomination hearing since Antonin Scalia. I have never seen anything like this. Democrats still expressing aggravation about a 42,000 page document dump last night.
9:45 am - An absolutely unhinged start to the hearing. Democrats interrupted Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) from the beginning, as demonstrators yelled from the audience. Democrats denounced the 42,000 page document dump last night, accusing Republicans of withholding issues about Judge Kavanaugh. "What is the rush?" asked Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ).
9:35 am - Judge Kavanaugh has entered the room, sitting down in front of an armada of photographers, as the Chairman gently gavels the hearing to order.
9:10 am - I mentioned the testimony of Chief Justice John Roberts earlier - his "umpire" reference came in his confirmation hearings in September of 2005, when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee this: "Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules." Later, Roberts added, "I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire."
9:00 am - Walking around Capitol Hill this morning, I saw one person with a bullhorn, so it was obvious right away this was not a normal Monday. Inside the Hart Senate Office building, not far from the hearing room, there are other demonstrators as well.
8:55 am - Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee gathered in front of the U.S. Supreme Court before the hearing began to denounce how Republicans have handled documents and more about Judge Kavanaugh. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA): "We go to these hearings under protest," denouncing the 42,000 page document dump last night on Labor Day. "Obviously, no one has been able to look at them yet."
8:45 am - The White House has already released some excerpts from Judge Kavanaugh's opening statement: "To me, Justice Kennedy is a mentor, a friend, and a hero. As a Member of the Court, he was a model of civility and collegiality. He fiercely defended the independence of the Judiciary. And he was a champion of liberty," Kavanaugh will say.
Kavanaugh will also then echo the testimony of Chief Justice John Roberts: "A good judge must be an umpire — a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy....I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences. I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge. I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge. I am a pro-law judge."
8:30 am - In the heat and humidity of this September morning, there are many people already lined up outside the Senate office buildings, waiting for a chance to get into the hearings.
8:00 am - Everyone has an idea on what kind of questions to ask. Think about this hearing like a sporting event, and you are the coach. You have a game plan - or you BETTER have a game plan. For Republicans, the game plan is simple. You extol the virtues of the nominee, cite positive stories, and be prepared to defend him against attacks by Democrats. But for Democrats, it's not as simple. Yes, you want to try to undermine the nominee - but how best to do that? What issues do you focus on? Abortion? Regulations? Kavanaugh's time working in the Bush White House? How he regards Presidential investigations? There are a host of ideas - and not every Senator will be on the same page in terms of a game plan. One thing that is making Democrats mad has been the production of documents about Kavanaugh. We've seen a number of document dumps on Saturdays, Sundays, and even on Labor Day evening. Look for Democrats to bring that up today.