Opinion: Senate GOP backs away from cliff

It’s a deeply ironic pop-culture reference -- “Thelma and Louise” is an iconic feminist movie in which sexual assault plays a central role -- but national Republicans just saved themselves from a major “Thelma and Louise” moment.

Motivated by little more than blind partisan fervor, they were about to drive themselves and their party off a cliff by rushing Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court without even minimal investigation, without due respect either to the allegations made against him or to those accusing him, and without taking into account the evasive, at times deceptive testimony of the nominee in Thursday’s hearing.

They had options, but they were intent on not taking them. And had they continued that desperate course, it would not have ended well. They can thank fellow Republicans Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska for demanding at the last minute that they hit the brakes.

After insisting that it was impossible to reopen an FBI background check into Kavanaugh, after laughing off claims of its necessity, suddenly Republican leadership has announced itself open to a renewed investigation and in fact almost seems to welcome it. They did so in large part because of basic arithmetic -- without Flake and Murkowski, they lack the 50 votes needed to confirm. But I get the sense that some also came to their senses overnight and began to understand that to quote Kavanaugh, they had sown the wind and were about to reap the whirlwind. 

Taking their cue from the self-pitying Kavanaugh, Republican senators Thursday had become so wrapped up in their self-righteous anger at supposedly being outmanuevered by their Democratic counterparts that they forgot what was really at stake.

In their minds, Christine Ford's personal integrity and her quiet, powerful, convincing description of her sexual assault were rendered totally irrelevant once Sen. Lindsey Graham threw a public tantrum worthy of a three-year-old in a grocery story. In that tantrum, Graham depicted the GOP, not Ford, as the true victim of an attempted rape. It became all about them, not about her and her experience.

The American public was watching, and I suspect was not impressed. They had questions, questions that were important to understanding the situation and questions that could easily be addressed if not answered with a basic investigation that Republicans, until today, refused to consider. 

The FBI now has several important avenues to explore.  The lawyer for Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s best friend in high school and alleged witness to the assault against Ford, now says his client will talk to the FBI. Kavanaugh’s personal calendar from 1982 contains information suggesting a possible date for the sexual assault, a fact that was about to be explored in Thursday’s hearing when Graham’s outburst interrupted. A house matching Ford’s description might be found. Kavanaugh’s claims about how heavily he drank, about his sexual innocence and statements in his yearbook, should also be explored. Out of fairness, the sensational, painful and to my mind dubious claims of a client for attorney Michael Avenatti should also be investigated, and if the investigation results in clearing Kavanaugh, he and his family should welcome it.

And no, the FBI will not provide us with a conclusion. As I’ve argued from the beginning,  all we want, expect and need is that the FBI produce as many facts as are discoverable, and from that the rest of us can draw conclusions based on the best information available.

Fair. Logical. Fact-based. This should never have been this hard.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.