Senate Republicans just made a desperate move to avoid disaster in the Kavanaugh hearing

If you know anything about the Senate -- and the men and women who populate it -- it's that they like to tal...

Posted: Sep 26, 2018 2:42 PM
Updated: Sep 26, 2018 2:42 PM

If you know anything about the Senate -- and the men and women who populate it -- it's that they like to talk. To debate, to question, to soliloquize. After all, the Senate isn't known as the world's greatest deliberative body for nothing.

Which is what makes the announcement Tuesday night by Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, all the more stunning. Grassley confirmed what had been rumored for days -- that Rachel Mitchell, a deputy county attorney in Maricopa (Arizona) County, was coming on as outside counsel and would handle the bulk of questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were both teenagers.

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"I promised Dr. Ford that I would do everything in my power to avoid a repeat of the 'circus' atmosphere in the hearing room that we saw the week of September 4," Grassley said in announcing Mitchell's hire. "I've taken this additional step to have questions asked by expert staff counsel to establish the most fair and respectful treatment of the witnesses possible."

So, the expectation is that Mitchell will handle the questioning of both Kavanaugh and Ford for all 11 Republicans on the Judiciary committee. (Any of the GOP senators on the panel could decide to do their own questioning; it's not clear that any will.) On the Democratic side, the 10 members of the panel will do their own questioning of the witnesses.

What could lead nearly a dozen Republican senators (including noted talkers like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee) to give up a privilege -- asking questions of witnesses in a VERY high profile setting -- they clearly cherish? Fear, mostly.

The 11 Republicans on the Judiciary committee are all men. Since it became clear that Ford, who alleges that Kavanaugh laid on top of her and tried to pull off her bathing suit in high school, would come to Washington to testify, Republican elected officials and party strategists have been apoplectic about the appearance of a group of men asking hard and personal questions of her.

The specter of Anita Hill loomed large. Her testimony in 1991 regarding accusations she made about inappropriate sexual advances made by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas has become a master class in mansplaining and shaming. Inappropriate comments and questions by the likes of late Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) and Howell Heflin (D-Alabama) have become legend in the political world -- living, breathing examples of what to never, ever do in similar circumstances. So lasting has the damage from the treatment of Hill been that Joe Biden, who served as the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Thomas hearings, has repeatedly apologized of late for not reining in some of the over-the-top questions asked by his colleagues.

(Biden is looking at running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 and knows that with the #MeToo movement in the culture, he could not simply ignore the role he played in the Hill hearings.)

Every one of the 11 Republican senators on the current Judiciary Committee are deathly afraid of becoming the next Specter or Heflin -- a man who looks either condescending, clueless or both when talking to a woman about her own story of experiencing sexual misconduct. The party, writ large, has massive concerns that even a single moment in which one of their senators looks to be out of touch or bullying could trigger even larger problems for Republicans at the ballot box in 41 days time. Less than 3 in 10 women said they approved of the job President Donald Trump was doing in the latest CNN-SSRS poll, and the party is looking at a major gender gap on the generic congressional ballot.

"Somebody will do something that you guys will run 24/7," Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker (R), who is not on the Judiciary committee, acknowledged to reporters on Tuesday.

And, judging from some of the comments made by, in particular, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), over the past 48 hours, that seems like a very legitimate concern for Republicans. "Well it's amazing to me that these allegations come out of nowhere at the last minute and that they weren't brought up earlier in this process," Hatch said earlier this week. "And it's not untypical for our friends on the other side to pull that kind of crap." Uh....

The truth is that Republicans on the judiciary committee were in a lose-lose situation here. Let their members ask questions of Ford and run the very real risk that some one of them might, well, step in it badly. Take the route they did by bringing in a woman to ask questions of Ford and Kavanaugh and look like they are so worried about screwing up that they are ceding their senatorial privilege of asking questions of a person who is on the verge of a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

The calculation made by Grassley and the other GOP members of the judiciary committee is that allowing Mitchell to ask the bulk (or maybe all) of the questions is the lesser of the two evils. Sure, Democrats will criticize them for abdicating their responsibilities at such a critical juncture. But, that's nothing when compared to the political fallout from even a single one of the 11 saying something to Ford that is deemed to be offensive, bullying or inappropriate. None of those 11 Republican senators wanted to take a risk like that, and so they brought on Mitchell.

That decision speaks to the incredibly fraught moment in which Republicans find themselves. A hugely high profile hearing on Thursday centered on a sexual assault allegation against Trump's pick for the Supreme Court. Amid the massive cultural shifts occasioned by the #MeToo movement. And with a midterm election, which has at least the potential to be a total disaster for congressional Republicans, looming just more than a month away.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And that's exactly what this move by Grassley is.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 482902

Reported Deaths: 9425
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33063488
Hinds31021589
DeSoto30610358
Jackson23687348
Rankin21340370
Lee14909220
Madison14166271
Jones13404227
Forrest13160240
Lauderdale11601305
Lowndes10443176
Lamar10214130
Pearl River9098221
Lafayette8241137
Hancock7514112
Washington7102150
Oktibbeha6964124
Monroe6514164
Neshoba6475201
Warren6464164
Pontotoc630393
Panola6250126
Marshall6126123
Bolivar6115144
Union574186
Pike5613136
Alcorn537290
Lincoln5303131
George471472
Scott459196
Leflore4476140
Prentiss446779
Tippah446480
Itawamba4444100
Adams4416116
Tate4394101
Simpson4335112
Wayne433066
Copiah431787
Yazoo423386
Covington415792
Sunflower4148104
Marion4099104
Leake397586
Coahoma3957100
Newton370875
Grenada3556104
Stone350860
Tishomingo336289
Attala325387
Jasper314162
Winston304691
Clay296473
Chickasaw287065
Clarke282190
Calhoun266141
Holmes262187
Smith250649
Yalobusha221047
Tallahatchie220450
Walthall211058
Greene209045
Lawrence206833
Perry199953
Amite198452
Webster196542
Noxubee178939
Montgomery172454
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162137
Tunica153334
Benton142535
Kemper138640
Choctaw127026
Claiborne126834
Humphreys126637
Franklin116728
Quitman103926
Wilkinson101936
Jefferson91333
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1926
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 787421

Reported Deaths: 14022
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1114521765
Mobile708161234
Madison49744633
Baldwin36201495
Shelby36186315
Tuscaloosa33818548
Montgomery33135678
Lee22590220
Calhoun21140410
Morgan19795335
Etowah19188462
Marshall17659274
Houston16788386
St. Clair15408305
Cullman14568258
Limestone14553188
Elmore14444264
Lauderdale13486281
Talladega12932236
DeKalb12174237
Walker10561330
Blount9693157
Autauga9652137
Jackson9363158
Coffee8847175
Dale8584173
Colbert8508184
Tallapoosa6661181
Escambia6585121
Covington6432167
Chilton6372144
Russell605355
Franklin5779101
Chambers5398134
Marion4789120
Dallas4694189
Clarke462279
Pike461597
Geneva4396117
Winston425295
Lawrence4112108
Bibb408581
Barbour346570
Marengo326285
Butler318190
Monroe318153
Randolph305256
Pickens304474
Henry301358
Hale292285
Cherokee289455
Fayette279073
Washington245248
Crenshaw237970
Cleburne235251
Clay228365
Macon219258
Lamar196243
Conecuh181846
Lowndes170758
Coosa169935
Wilcox159736
Bullock149243
Perry136437
Sumter124436
Greene121243
Choctaw73427
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While some cool mornings are again in store for the weekend, afternoons start to warm up a bit, so plan on dressing in layers if you're heading to the MSU or Bama games, because you'll need to utilize them in different ways.
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