An Infuriating Story About How Badly the Democrats Botched the Kavanaugh Fight

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A new book by The Intercept’s Ryan Grim provides damning new insight into Senate Democrats’ abject failure to meaningfully oppose Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, with Grim reporting that Chuck Schumer instructed his party to basically sit on its hands, lest the Republicans weaponize any attacks on Kavanaugh.


As New York reported late Tuesday afternoon, Grim’s reporting comes in his new book, We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement, which is out now. Per the site, Grim reported that Schumer “repeatedly told outside allies that a furious stand against Kavanaugh would enrage Trump supporters and only disappoint progressive voters. We have no power, he explained repeatedly.”

This isn’t strictly true. Kavanaugh’s confirmation, while always a long shot to prevent, stopped looking like a totally foregone conclusion after real grassroots protests put serious pressure on those with borderline votes, like Maine’s Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and even Jeff Flake. When the activist group Demand Justice threatened to run ads against conservative Democrats if they voted to confirm Kavanaugh, Schumer was “furious,” according to Grim.

So what message was he rallying the troops around behind closed doors instead? According to New York (emphasis theirs), basically nothing:

For a moment, it looked like the professor’s decision to testify — though she knew it would be painful and possibly even dangerous — might accomplish what Democratic leaders thought impossible. Grim reports that when the Democrats gathered on September 27, shortly after Blasey Ford’s gripping testimony, Schumer advised his caucus to do nothing. “There was no way, he said, that Kavanaugh could survive. That meant that the smartest Democratic move at this moment was to not get in the way,” Grim writes. “Don’t do anything, he told Judiciary Committee members, that could screw this up and give Republicans some way to paint Kavanaugh as the victim. Stand down, he said.”

Simply “no way” Kavanaugh could survive, Schumer reportedly said, as millions of women around the country now fear for the future of Roe v. Wade. “Don’t do anything” that could allow Republicans—always the stewards of good faith politics—to “paint Kavanaugh as the victim,” he reportedly said. They did that in spades anyway, and were quite likely always going to, even if Democrats had waged a fiercer war on the nomination and were still ultimately unsuccessful.

And where was California Sen. Dianne Feinstein? Feinstein was quietly at the center of all this, sitting on a letter from Ford describing her allegations against Kavanaugh, which wouldn’t become public for weeks, according to Grim. Ford had sent the letter to California state Rep. Anna Eshoo, who reportedly forwarded it to Feinstein’s office on July 30. But it only came to light in mid-September, after Grim first reported on the letter’s existence for The Intercept.


At the time, Feinstein offered up an unsatisfying answer as to why she hadn’t released the document sooner, saying the matter was “confidential” and that she’d sent it to the proper authorities. But if the hell Ford went through testifying before the nation—only to have Republicans spit in her face by confirming her alleged attacker anyway—would cast doubt on that telling of events, Grim’s reporting goes farther. According to New York:

In his book, Grim casts doubt on Feinstein’s explanation for the delay — that Blasey Ford had requested anonymity — noting that her argument “ignored that Blasey Ford had already taken repeated steps to come forward, had already told friends she planned to do so, had already come forward to two congressional offices and reached out to the press, and was only asking for confidentiality until she and Feinstein spoke.”


He also notes there could have been other pressing issues at work (emphasis mine):

Blasey Ford’s letter didn’t just contain information that could jeopardize the nomination of a man who posed a threat to Roe v. Wade. Its very existence implied some moral obligation on the part of its recipients: Blasey Ford wrote the letter, and initially contacted Eshoo, because she wanted to be heard. If Feinstein understood Blasey Ford’s intentions, why did she hesitate to reveal the letter? Grim offers an answer, reinforced by contemporaneous reporting from The New Yorker. Feinstein, the magazine reported, believed her party “would be better off focusing on legal, rather than personal, issues in their questioning of Kavanaugh.” There are other, more cynical possibilities for her delay. The senator also faced a challenge to her reelection bid: Fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon was running against her from the left. As Grim notes, Feinstein needed conservative votes to shore up her lead in the state’s general election. A combative posture toward Kavanaugh didn’t exactly serve her interests.


I have reached out to Feinstein and Schumer for comment and will update if I hear back.

All told, it’s another disheartening glimpse through the peephole into what the Democratic Party actually stands for these days—which is to say, not much.


Update, 3:27 p.m. ET: Reached for comment by Splinter, a Feinstein spokesman said: “Senator Feinstein spoke on many, many occasions that the letter wasn’t released because Dr. Ford asked that it not be.” He also said the assertion in the New Yorker’s earlier reporting—that Feinstein favored a focus on Kavanaugh’s legal, rather than personal issues—was “incorrect.”

Managing Editor, Splinter