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Democrats Struggle For A Unified Message On Kavanaugh


If you thought the first day of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing to become the next U.S. Supreme Court justice was chaotic, it will really heat up today when members of the Senate Judiciary Committee get their first chance to publicly question the nominee. Democrats have been struggling to land on a unified message ahead of the hearing, and they failed to cut into Republican support for Kavanaugh. Yesterday, as the hearing kicked off, Democrats decided to make it a public fight.


CORY BOOKER: I call for at least to have a debate or a vote on these issues and not for us to rush through this process.


MARTIN: That is Democratic Senator Cory Booker amid cheers from activists at the hearing. NPR's Kelsey Snell has more.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Democrats waited seven seconds before trying to stop Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley from starting a hearing on Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. That's when California Senator Kamala Harris first spoke up to ask that the entire hearing be postponed.


KAMALA HARRIS: We cannot possibly move forward, Mr. Chairman, with this hearing.

CHUCK GRASSLEY: I extend a very warm welcome to Judge Kavanaugh...

HARRIS: We have not been given an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing on this nominee.

GRASSLEY: ...To his wife, Ashley.

SNELL: Other Democrats joined in, asking for documents from Kavanaugh's time working in the George W. Bush White House and more time to read them. They've been arguing about paperwork for weeks with little progress. And even progressive activists are getting frustrated that Democrats are focused on a fight that has failed to break through.

CHRIS KANG: These process arguments only matter if they're convincing to anybody else. And so far, Democratic senators have not even been able to convince their entire caucus, their own caucus. And so then we need to stop talking about these documents, and we need to get back to the core messages.

SNELL: That's Chris Kang. He is chief counsel with Demand Justice, a progressive group that wants to derail Kavanaugh's nomination. Kang and others in Democrats' progressive base want senators to focus on what Kavanaugh's nomination would mean for core, ideological issues. Planned Parenthood is one of the many groups participating in daily protests at the hearings. They're also running an ad reminding voters why they think Kavanaugh matters.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Roe versus Wade is at stake. My access to health care is at stake. Everything is at stake now, which is why I'm reaching out and speaking out.

SNELL: They want to hear more like this from Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono.


MAZIE HIRONO: We are here to decide whether or not to rubber stamp Donald Trump's choice of a preselected political ideologue nominated precisely because he believes a sitting president should be shielded from civil lawsuits, criminal investigation and prosecution no matter the facts.

SNELL: So far, Democrats have struggled to land on a message on Kavanaugh that resonates with voters. His meetings with senators went mostly under the radar, and the fight over documents - it landed with a thud among activists. Judiciary Committee Democrat Chris Coons admits it's hard to break through months of bombshell news cycles from indictments in the Russia investigation to presidential feuds and the death of John McCain.

CHRIS COONS: We've been living in a world where the president has demonstrated skill at changing the subject no matter what happens.

SNELL: In the days leading up to the hearings, progressive organizers demanded on social media and in press releases that Democrats walk out of the hearings entirely. But committee Democrats like Coons say it's their responsibility to properly vet a nominee before a vote. Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal said in the run-up to the hearings that he hopes the message will become clear.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: I never said I was confident. I am hopeful that there will be time, there will be public disclosure of these documents and there will be the American people having a chance to see them and make their views known.

SNELL: Democrats have three more days of hearings to see if it works. Kelsey Snell, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF AARON PARKS' "KARMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.