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Conservative Reaction To Kavanaugh

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Early this afternoon, a Senate committee votes on Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court. Lawmakers are discussing President Trump's nominee already this morning. Republicans are in favor, Democrats opposed. And they are discussing yesterday's testimony in which Kavanaugh faced one of the accusations against him of sexual misconduct. He proclaimed his innocence and went further, saying the accusers were part of a vast left-wing conspiracy.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

BRETT KAVANAUGH: This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside, left-wing opposition groups. This is a circus.

INSKEEP: In contrast to Kavanaugh's anger, his accuser Christine Blasey Ford was quiet and even apologetic at times. She is the woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when both were in high school.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. This is what terrified me the most and has had the most lasting impact on my life. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me. Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack. They seemed to be having a very good time.

INSKEEP: That's Christine Blasey Ford yesterday. NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow is here. He's following this morning's developments. Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Already a dramatic morning.

DETROW: Yes. A major roadblock to Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court has been removed. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, one of the key undecided senators in this matter, has said he will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh.

INSKEEP: Now, we should just note the judiciary committee is closely divided. Flake is on the judiciary committee. The fact that he's voting yes, along with, we presume, all the other Republicans, so far as we know, means he's going to get a majority of the committee on the way to the full Senate.

DETROW: That's right. And this was one of the key votes on the full Senate floor that will make a difference in whether or not Kavanaugh is confirmed to the court. I'll just read a couple sentences from the statement he put out.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

DETROW: He said, I left the hearing yesterday with as much doubt as certainty. What I do know is that our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence. I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.

INSKEEP: So he's saying he has questions about whether Brett Kavanaugh committed sexual assault.

DETROW: He does.

INSKEEP: Those haven't been put to rest for him. But the senators have been deciding, what is the standard to apply here? Is it the standard of a job interview? Is it standard of a trial? And he goes for the presumption of innocence, which you would have in a trial.

DETROW: That's right.

INSKEEP: How have people responded to that.

DETROW: Well, there was a really dramatic and emotional moment as Flake made his way to this committee hearing that's going on right now. He got in an elevator. A woman held the elevator door open and confronted him and told him that she was a victim of sexual assault and asked him to justify his yes vote to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a women to sit in the Supreme Court. This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about...

INSKEEP: We should note this video goes on for some time. Flake stands in the elevator. He doesn't run away. He doesn't say much of anything. He nods and listens and takes it, which is part of democracy. He's made a decision, and he's confronted by someone that he works for and has to listen.

DETROW: That's right. It was very emotional to watch. It went on for an extended length of time. There's still a couple other key Republicans who have not said whether or not they'll vote for Kavanaugh - Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins of Maine.

INSKEEP: OK. They're not on the judiciary committee. No Republican women on the judiciary committee. But the full Senate - of course, Republicans still trying to round up 50 or 51 votes if they can. There are other bits of drama this morning. Are there not? Some people have walked out of the committee hearing as senators are discussing this issue.

DETROW: Yes. Several Democrats on the judiciary committee have gotten up and left in anger and frustration. And at the same time, several women who are members of the House of Representatives have walked across the Capitol into the hearing room and have been standing in the back of the hearing room to protest Kavanaugh's likely confirmation vote here.

INSKEEP: Now, we have all morning been hearing different perspectives and opinions on these developments. And let's listen to one of those voices. His name is Matt Lewis. He's a well-known conservative writer currently at The Daily Beast. And he's been closely following this story.

So there's a profound divide here. There was before the testimony. There seems to have been during the testimony. Some people finding Christine Blasey Ford credible. Other people supporting Brett Kavanaugh. From your writing, it seems that you are leaning on the Kavanaugh side. You think that he did well enough.

MATT LEWIS: Yeah. I mean, look. I found them both credible. And after Dr. Ford spoke, I wrote a piece at The Daily Beast saying, I don't know how Brett Kavanaugh can match this. I just - she seemed to be likable. She seemed to be credible. And then I think Brett Kavanaugh came out and actually did what he needed to do. And, you know, keep in mind, he doesn't necessarily need to persuade the majority of Americans. He needs to persuade Donald Trump to stick by him. And he needs to persuade a handful of Republican senators who might've been wavering. And I think he probably did it. And in fact, the interesting thing is, you know, there are a lot of negotiations leading into to this hearing. And it was, like, when are they going to do it? And also, what's the table going to look like? Will Brett Kavanaugh be in the room?

INSKEEP: Yeah.

LEWIS: One of the negotiations was, who gets to go last? And I think the fact that Brett Kavanaugh was the last word could be the difference.

INSKEEP: And yet - let me ask you, Matt Lewis. You said you found them both credible, which means you found Christine Blasey Ford credible. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic senator from California, questioned Blasey Ford at one point about whether she might be mistaken in the identity of her attacker - asked if it could be anybody else. Let's listen to some of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: How are you so sure that it was he?

FORD: The same way that I'm sure that I'm talking to you right now. And so it's just basic memory functions and also just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain that sort of, as you know, encodes - that neurotransmitter encodes memories into the hippocampus. And so the trauma-related experience then is kind of locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.

FEINSTEIN: So what you are telling us is this could not be a case of mistaken identity?

FORD: Absolutely not.

INSKEEP: OK. She gives lots of details of her experience, even if she doesn't remember the exact house. She is found credible by Republican senators. How do you find her story credible and still support Kavanaugh?

LEWIS: Well, look. So I think - first of all, I would say, you know, you go into these things. And it's a he-said-she-said from 36 years ago. So we're probably not going to have any evidence. So you try to go in and you listen to those people and discern who's telling the truth. And if either of them had equivocated or wavered - and there was a point where she said, I'm 100 percent confident that this happened.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

LEWIS: If she had opened a shadow of doubt, that would've hurt her. The same thing, I think, is true of Brett Kavanaugh. If Brett Kavanaugh had said, you know, maybe some things happened. I had too many drinks, but I did not, you know...

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

He actually said the same thing. I'm 100 percent certain I didn't do this.

INSKEEP: Yes, same percentage. Right.

LEWIS: Exactly. And so I think - and so I felt that they both came across as believable. As they were speaking, I was like, wow, OK. So I think what happened is you end up with basically a draw. And if the needle doesn't move yesterday, that means we're kind of back where we started from, amazingly, which is there are 51 Republican senators and a Republican president. And I think that is why...

MARTIN: Yeah.

LEWIS: ...If I had to bet today, he's not - he wins the confirmation.

INSKEEP: Let me just ask, though. Republicans and Kavanaugh himself put a lot of emphasis on Democrats accusing them of a conspiracy. Kavanaugh accused Democrats of trying to get revenge because he was involved in the investigation of President Clinton in the 1990s. I think that's what he was driving at. Lindsey Graham made a very angry statement in which he was wagging his finger and said of Democrats, you just want power. You're willing to do anything to get power. You want this seat to be held open until you can fill it. My question, Matt Lewis, is, isn't that a classic example of projection? Isn't that literally, exactly, explicitly what Republicans have wanted and done for years and years and years, willing to do anything to get their side with a majority on the Supreme Court?

LEWIS: Yeah. Look. I think both sides have done it. And we can go all the way back to Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas where Democrats tried to stop Republican nominees. So, you know, there's blame on both sides. At the end of the day, I think it's totally possible that you could have a situation where Democrats are, in fact, playing politics. And yet Republicans nominate somebody who has done something horrible. So I don't think...

INSKEEP: I should tell you people are probably - some people, anyway - are probably screaming at the radio right now about the both sides thing. They're remembering more recent history involving...

LEWIS: Right.

INSKEEP: ...Merrick Garland and so forth.

LEWIS: Yeah. I can just tell you from a conservative perspective there is nothing that has animated and angered conservatives more for decades than what happened to Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. And in the minds of conservatives, what's happening to Brett Kavanaugh is actually a continuation of that theme.

INSKEEP: One last quick question for you, Matt Lewis. You said that Kavanaugh didn't need to persuade a majority of Americans, just certain senators and the president himself. Is that sustainable for the Supreme Court as an institution if he is confirmed, and it turns out that a strong majority of Americans is troubled by his confirmation and has less belief in the court as a result?

LEWIS: Well, it's very dangerous because our institutions in general are in crisis right now. The Supreme Court is one of the few institutions that still enjoys some modicum of respect. My guess is that Chief Justice Roberts will go out of his way to try to make sure there aren't a lot of 5-4 decisions. That's what he did with the Obama - in terms of overturning Obamacare. I think Roberts sees his legacy as restoring and maintaining the reputation of the court. He's going to have a tough job to do going forward.

INSKEEP: Matt Lewis, senior columnist for The Daily Beast, thanks as always.

LEWIS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: OK. And developments continuing here. Again, at 1:30 this afternoon, a Senate committee will vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. We know the outcome of a key vote, Jeff Flake, who says he's voting yes. And what are the implications of the situation - Scott Detrow, who's still with us here.

DETROW: I think there's short-term implications, and there's long-term implications. Short term, I think with Flake's yes vote, there's a good chance that Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court. Long term, I think there's a good chance that millions of women who watched yesterday will see the Senate effectively ignoring what Ford testified to. And that confrontation in the elevator - the woman, whose name we don't have at this point, said to Senator Flake, that's what you're telling all women in America - they don't matter. There's already a huge gender gap of women preferring the Democratic Party. Will this increase that?

INSKEEP: And an election is approaching. Thanks very much, Scott Detrow.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.