Point By Point: Refuting Schumer's Misleading, Hypocritical Speech on the Kavanaugh Process

Posted: Oct 02, 2018 2:01 PM

Earlier today on the Senate floor, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer delivered dueling speeches on the matter of Brett Kavanaugh's fraught confirmation process.  This video shows both sets of remarks, back to back, starting with the Majority Leader.  If you have time, you should watch McConnell's comments, which meticulously lay bare the Democrats' cynical maneuvering and standard-shifting, concluding with a vow that Kavanaugh's nomination will receive a floor vote this week.  Schumer went second, uncorking a lengthy response that attacked Republicans, and all but accused Kavanaugh of committing perjury.  Watch:

The Minority Leader advanced so many misleading and hypocritical arguments over the span of 15 minutes or so, I hardly know where to begin.  Let's go piece by piece: 

(1) Schumer opens, revealingly, with a salvo against McConnell's criticism of Democrats' delay tactics -- citing the experience of Merrick Garland, President Obama's third (and never confirmed) Supreme Court nominee, nominated after the death of Justice Scalia in 2016.  Schumer's point is that it's absurd for Republicans to complain about delays to Kavanaugh's process when they held Scalia's seat open for months.  This point surely appeals to many Democrats' revenge lust over Garland, but it's a bad point nevertheless.  In declining to seek hearings or a vote for Garland in a presidential election year, McConnell was not merely (finally) playing Democrat-style hardball; he was literally executing a standard advocated by Joe Biden in 1992 and -- wait for it -- Chuck Schumer in 2007.  I emphasize that second year because Schumer was pushing the then-Democratic Senate to decline to confirm a potential Bush-appointed SCOTUS nominee before the 2008 presidential election year had even arrived.  

Given Democrats' long history of unprecedented and extraordinary escalations in judicial confirmation battles, the Biden and Schumer Rule cannot be cast aside as empty rhetoric.  It was the next step they absolutely would have taken if given the chance.  McConnell forced them to play by their own rules with Garland.  Also, importantly, Republicans didn't seek to destroy Judge Garland through ugly character assassination.  They simply applied the Biden and Schumer Rule by not entertaining filling the vacancy until after the American people had elected a new president.  One can loathe that they did so, but they were very open about what they were doing.  They didn't stage show hearings or trifle around with the process in order to waste time or run out the clock.  They drew their line in the sand and abided by it.  The bogus Garland comparison is nothing more than a tell.

(2) The Minority Leader said that GOP leaders couldn't blame Democrats for delays because Democrats don't control the Senate calendar.  Republican members pushed for the Ford hearing, and Republican members forced the weeklong extension for the FBI background investigation follow-up.  Based on this framing, Democrats were essentially bystanders to all of this.  Nonsense.  The reason Republicans felt jammed into extending the confirmation process twice is because Democrats concealed Ford's allegation for roughly two months, deploying their secret weapon only after putting Ford in touch with hand-picked partisan attorneys, and after Kavanaugh's Hill meetings and hearings were all complete.  If Republicans had not frantically adjusted to Democrats' dirty timing with a pair of postponements, Schumer would have been screaming about how they were refusing to listen to women, and refusing to let the FBI update its work, in light of new information.  Nobody can seriously dispute that.  And if Democrats had chosen to handle Ford's accusation -- which they later decided was credible, having apparently drawn a different conclusion earlier -- in a timely and discreet manner, it could have been properly dealt with, with fairness and thoroughness for all involved.  They didn't.  Schumer omits this defining context from his protestations regarding the "delay" blame game.

(3) Schumer insists that the weeklong FBI investigation must be thorough.  Based on reporting, the Bureau's scope isn't limited, even as its time frame is.  The Democratic leader doesn't seem to object to the latter point, suggesting that he's preparing to say that unless every single witness his party wants to be interviewed is contacted, they'll attack the follow-up background probe as a "sham."  In other words, he's likely previewing their next complaint.  As a reminder, the FBI's work here is not a criminal investigation into unprovable, decades-old accusations.  It's a gathering of sworn statements from various parties alleged to be connected to these unresolvable questions.  It's possible that someone may radically change their previously-issued statements (also made under penalty of perjury), or hand over some other huge piece of evidence.  But the greater likelihood cuts in the opposite direction.  Given their conduct since the very moment Kavanaugh was nominated, the chances that Democrats will simply shrug at an inconclusive FBI process and say, "good enough for us" is approximately zero.

(4) Citing some of Kavanaugh's most heated statements about Democrats -- venting his entirely understandable fury at their underhandedness and smear work -- Schumer calls the judge's testimony more befitting a Fox News panel than a confirmation hearing.  I suspect that in retrospect, Kavanaugh would like to slightly dial back a few of the most partisan barbs he issued. But if Schumer is gravely offended by a high-ranking federal judge engaging in what could be described as problematic and biased political commentary, why hasn't he drawn up impeachment memos over Justice Ginsberg's nakedly partisan attacks against Donald Trump?  Why hasn't he insisted that she recuse herself from all cases involving the Trump administration, given her clearly-stated bias (stated under far less duress and unjust stress than Kavanaugh)?  We all know why.

(5) Finally, Schumer says one of the biggest problems with Kavanaugh is his credibility, based on his recent testimony.  The Minority Leader states or suggests that Kavanaugh was misleading or dishonest about his high school and college drinking, the timeline of his involvement with pushback against the non-credible Yale allegation, and certain entries in his high school yearbook.  I'll briefly address each: At the center of every claim that Kavanaugh 'lied' about his drinking is the false premise that he didn't admit to getting drunk in high school and college.  But he did.  Under oath, he stated that he "sometimes had too many beers."  Translation: Yeah, sometimes I got drunk.  He also didn't deny falling asleep or passing out from drinking, nor did he deny throwing up.  He did explicitly deny blacking out, which is a totally different physiological phenomenon.  Did he downplay the drinking issue?  Yes.  Should he have been more repeatedly explicit about his teenage drinking days?  Arguably.  Did he "lie" about it?  Not at all.  

On the issue of when he knew about Ms. Ramirez phoning up former Yale classmates about a possible allegation, Ed Morrissey breaks down this mini-controversy, noting NBC's (still incomplete) stealth edit to its own story pushing this narrative.  It's entirely consistent that Kavanaugh and his allies could have become aware that she was fishing around on something, and sought to prepare general pushback, but didn't know every specific charge Ramirez would level until the New Yorker came knocking for comment. Lastly, as for the task of deciphering inside jokes from a yearbook page more than three decades after its publication, we've seen hot debates playing out (with people weighing in on both sides) over what certain slang terms did or did not mean back in the early 1980's.  Even if you want to believe that Kavanaugh deliberately mischaracterized one or more of those jokes -- apparently involving flatulence, drinking games, and girls -- it's literally impossible to determine what he understood those phrases or gags to mean at the time.  

I'll leave you with my spirited exchange with a Democratic operative on Fox News this morning, just after Schumer's speech concluded.  Notice the trajectory of our back-and-forth -- when she couldn't defend or respond to one point, she glided quickly over to the next.  I tried to call it out every step of the way: