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Critical Senate Vote on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court Nomination; Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired October 5, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: -- investigation that was conducted by the FBI failed to interview any one of the witnesses, these two women identified who could support her account.
Let me say that again. They refused to investigate, to talk with any of the 24 witnesses that could have supported their accounts.
Mr. President, I think it's important to remember why we're here today. We're here to determine whether Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated the impartiality, the temperament, the even handedness that's needed to serve on this great high court of our land. If confirmed, he will join eight other individuals who are charged with deciding how the laws of our land are interpreted and applied.
He would be a deciding vote on the most important issues affecting our country and every American for generations to come.
Mr. President -- Madam President, based on all of the factors we have before us, I do not believe Judge Kavanaugh has earned this seat. Thank you.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee making the case against confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh.
We're expecting to hear momentarily from Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, the minority leader in the U.S. Senate. He's expected to speak shortly. He'll be followed by Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, the top Republican in the U.S. Senate.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. This is truly a very, very important moment in U.S. history. A moment that could affect Americans' lives for generations. In a few minutes, the U.S. Senate will vote on the future of the Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Will he take the swing seat on the high court, shifting the balance towards conservatives for decades to come? Or will the GOP come up a vote or two short?
It is unclear right now what the final vote on the Senate floor will be. Republican leaders said this morning they did not -- they did not yet have all the votes they need, but they also said they remain confident they can get to the crucial number. That number is 60 -- excuse me, 50 votes. They need 50 votes. If it's a tie, 50-50, the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, who's the president of the U.S. Senate, he breaks the tie in favor of confirmation.
There are 51 Republicans in the U.S. Senate, 49 Democrats. Two of them are independents but caucus with the Democrats. 51-49. This is going to be a critical moment.
Right now Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill.
Manu, we're expecting to hear from Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, lots of speakers -- a few more speakers before this critically important procedural vote.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and we don't know how it's going to go in the final vote quite yet, Wolf. The four undeclared senators are still undeclared. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, right now is behind closed doors reading this material about Brett Kavanaugh's past. Entering this closed-door briefing to understand what happened. He refused to say how he would vote. He actually said he would not make a decision until the vote is actually cast.
Now the three Republican senators we're watching very closely also have not made their decisions known yet. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona. We do expect Susan Collins to make her announcement about her final vote later this afternoon. So potentially her vote this morning may not be the same as her vote tomorrow. We just don't know the answer to that. She declined to comment on her way into her office this morning.
So the Republican leadership at the moment is confident that ultimately that Kavanaugh will get confirmed, that they'll overcome this Democratic filibuster this morning, but no one can say for sure, and Republicans that I have talked to this morning, Wolf, say flatly they don't know what is going to happen, which makes this vote very dramatic as we head into the crucial 10:30 vote this morning.
We'll see how the senators react, if they hold back and wait until the end of the vote to cast their vote, or if they decide right away, going yea or nay. We just don't know how that's going to go at the moment. Significant time in the Senate. A rare moment.
BLITZER: All right, Manu.
RAJU: Just such a huge vote that's still --
BLITZER: Hold on for a moment. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, the minority leader, is speaking. I'll get to him in a moment, but Dana Bash, you've got some breaking news.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I'm told that, as Manu was talking about, one of the key Republican senators here, Susan Collins. I'm told she will vote yes on this morning's procedural vote, the cloture vote. [10:05:01] However, we've all been kind of looking coming up to this
vote as the key vote. It might not be the key vote. Because she's going to vote yes, but then she's going to give a speech on the floor at 3:00 where she is then going to talk about her final vote, whether she will actually vote to confirm. And that could be different. It could be the same, but it could be different. So there's going to be tremendous suspense, assuming that this cloture vote passes between then and when we have that question about the final vote.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. That's important news as far as Susan Collins is concerned. Chuck Schumer is speaking on the floor.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: And finally the dam broke under the weight of credible allegations that Judge Kavanaugh committed a sexual assault in high school. In 2018, the Republican majority conducted a hearing that made the Anita Hill hearings in 1991 look fair by comparison.
In this hearing, there were no corroborating witnesses on either side. No independent investigation of the facts to inform the questioning. They even hired an outside counsel to put a witness, Dr. Ford, on trial. Only at the 11th hour urging, a breakaway member of their caucus, Republicans submitted reluctantly to a one-week investigation of the allegations. An investigation which was then severely circumscribed by the White House.
Our Republican friends blame us for this process. They're always finding a strawman. But nothing could be further from the truth. First, they blame us for delay. Knowing full well that Majority Leader McConnell has complete control of when nominees are brought to the floor. Leader McConnell could have moved this nominee two weeks ago or one week ago. Democrats had nothing -- no say and don't when it comes to who comes to the floor.
But in each case, Leader McConnell couldn't move the nominee forward because he was blocked by fellow Republicans, not Democrats, from moving forward. When it comes to complaining about delay, two words never come from our Republican friends' lips. Merrick Garland. Republicans are also saying we engaged in, quote, "a smear campaign," or the politics of personal destruction with this nomination.
In reality, again, they're using Democrats as a strawman because what they're really talking about is what Dr. Ford said. Democrats did not induce her to come forward. Her conscience did. And our Republican friends -- are our Republican friends accusing Dr. Ford and her deeply held memories of what happened to her of a smear campaign? Are they accusing Dr. Ford of a smear campaign? Of engaging in the politics of personal destruction? Because that is who they're actually blaming. They're decrying her testimony. And then trying to blame Democrats.
I don't blame them. They have a flawed nominee. They don't want the focus on the nominee. When future Americans look back at these proceedings, let them draw no lessons from the Senate's conduct here. Let them look back on this chapter as the shameful culmination of the scorched earth politics practiced by the hard right in America. People who will stop at nothing to entrench an advantage on our nation's courts.
Let the confirmation process for Judge Kavanaugh be recorded as a sorry epilogue to the brazen theft of Justice Scalia's seat, the ignominious end of bipartisan cooperation and consultation on the confirmation of Supreme Court justices.
And for what? For whom were Senate Republican leaders willing to discard all semblance of fairness to confirm? Judge Brett Kavanaugh, certainly a product of an elite education, but also someone with hard- right conservative jurisprudence, far, far away from what average Americans believe.
Why most Democrats opposed his nomination at the outset feels like ancient history now, but let us not forget that most importantly, we strongly disagree with a number of Judge Kavanaugh's views.
[10:10:10] He's deeply skeptical of un-enumerated rights, including a woman's right to make fundamentally private decisions about her medical care. He's deeply skeptical of the government's role in protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions. He's deeply skeptical of nearly all rules and regulations that protect consumers, workers, the environment. And the flashing red light warning sign at the center of Judge Kavanaugh's jurisprudence are his views on executive power and accountability.
Somehow this conservative judge and scholar of the Constitution sees at the heart of American democracy a president kum (PH) king, an executive who is unaccountable to the laws he's sworn to uphold. A head of state who while in office should be beyond the reach of subpoenas, criminal investigations, or civil investigations.
This moment in American history demands deep skepticism about Judge Kavanaugh's views on executive power. Nominated as he was by an executive who disdained the constraints of his office and who is at this very moment the apparent subject of investigations his Supreme Court nominee believes should be invalid.
I met with Judge Kavanaugh for almost two hours. And I asked him about all of those issues. His answers were constantly evasive and utterly unsatisfactory. It was deja vu all over again in the first round of hearings. When Judge Kavanaugh deliberately avoided talking about his views on Roe, health care, presidential accountability, and more.
There was no league reason, rule, or logic that prevented him from being clear and saying what he thought. He was evasive because he knows that his views are deeply at odds with the progress America has made over the last century of jurisprudence and at odds with what most Americans believe. His performance was not only unfair and frustrating to the Senate, it was unfair to the American people.
When a nominee refuses to disclose their views, chances are you have a nominee whose views are far outside the mainstream of America, whether they be far right or far left.
My colleagues on the other side of the aisle may not have as grave a concern about these views as we do, but let no American be surprised if Judge Kavanaugh becomes a decisive vote to restrict the rights and privileges of the American people while stretching the bounds of privilege for the current occupant of the White House.
Judge Kavanaugh's nomination ultimately does not only encompass questions of ideology or credentials but questions of character. Here again, Judge Kavanaugh falls woefully short of what Americans expect and deserve in a Supreme Court justice. He has repeatedly misled the Senate about his involvement in some of the most serious controversies of the Bush administration, including warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, our policy against torture, the theft of electronic records from Democratic senators, and his involvement in the nomination of very controversial judges.
Faced with credible allegations of various types of misconduct, Judge Kavanaugh's credibility was again tested and he continued to dissemble and even prevaricate about easily refuted facts. Beyond the issue of credibility, Judge Kavanaugh presented to the Senate the bitterest partisan testimony I have ever heard coming from a candidate seeking the Senate's approval, whether they be for the bench or the executive branch.
Now there are many who think that what happened when Judge Kavanaugh was 17 years old should not be dispositive. Even if you believe that, his actions at age 53 in terms of demeanor, partisanship, and above all, credibility, should be dispositive.
[10:15:05] Judges at every level of the federal bench should be held to the highest standard of ethics and moral character. Judges at every level should be judicious and credible and independent, but especially, especially on the Supreme Court.
I do not see how it's possible for my colleagues to say with perfect confidence that Judge Kavanaugh has the temperament, independence, and credibility to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
So I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, why Judge Kavanaugh? There is no dictate that you have to march blindly forward with a nominee when there are others available to you. There are many judges who I'm sure conservatives would be happy to have on the court.
I'd remind my colleagues, the seat that Brett Kavanaugh aspires to fill was held by a justice who assumed the bench after one nominee was voted down by the Senate and a second nominee withdrew his nomination. But the Republican majority has pressed forward blindly on Judge Kavanaugh. Even when brave women came forward to speak truth to power.
Why? For what cause? For the sake of winning? That's not reason enough.
My colleagues on the other side, if you have doubts about Judge Kavanaugh's credibility, about his ability to tell the truth, about his ability to be impartial and nonpartisan, no matter what you think of his jurisprudence, or what he may or may not have done in high school and college, you should not vote to confirm him to the Supreme Court.
So, my friends, Democrat and Republican, for all the controversy, all the heavy handedness of the process, all the hyperbole and vilification of both sides, there's also hope that the Senate can save itself. We can salvage some decency here at the end.
If Judge Kavanaugh is rejected, President Trump will select another nominee, likely right of center, probably not to my liking, but without the cloud that hangs over this nominee. And we can proceed to consider that nominee in a much less bitter, much better, less partisan way.
A bipartisan majority of senators considering fully the weight of Judge Kavanaugh's testimony, record, credibility, trustworthiness and temperament, considering fully the heartbreaking testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, can vote to reject Judge Kavanaugh's nomination and ask the president to send the Senate another name.
For the sake of the Senate, of the Supreme Court, and of America, I hope, I pray my colleagues will do so.
BLITZER: Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, the minority leader in the U.S. Senate, making the case against confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh as the new U.S. Supreme Court justice.
We're getting new information on some of the four undecided senators who will either make or break this confirmation.
Gloria Borger, you're getting some new information as well.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I just want to add a little to what Dana was saying. I mean, these senators, including Senator Flake, still pretty much seem to be trying to decide what they want to do. We know that Senator Flake voted yes in committee, so he's not as much of a mystery perhaps as Senator Collins or Murkowski. But there is this possibility that people vote yes on cloture, meaning move the nomination, and then decide to vote against the nomination in the end.
I mean, you'll recall, and we have all covered this, that this occurred during health care, when John McCain, for example, voted yes on cloture, but that was because he thought he could perfect the bill on the second round. There's nothing here to perfect. It's just a nomination on a single person.
BLITZER: All right. I got to -- I got to go to Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Now the stakes are always high for a Supreme Court nomination. But, colleagues, the extraordinary events of recent weeks have raised them even higher this time. When we vote later this morning, we will not only be deciding whether to elevate a stunningly well-qualified judge to our highest court, not anymore, not after all this.
[10:20:11] The United States Senate will also be making a statement. Either to state that partisan politics can override the presumption of innocence or we'll reaffirm that in the United States of America everyone is innocent until proven guilty. We'll either state that facts and evidence can simply be brushed aside when politically inconvenient and signal that media bullying and mob intimidation are valid tactics for shaping the Senate.
The mob can attack and the Senate caves. Or we'll stand up and say that serious, thoughtful, fact-based deliberation will still define this body. We'll either give notice that totally uncorroborated allegations are now officially, officially enough to destroy an American's life, or we'll declare that our society cannot, must not, will not set the bar so low.
So, Madam President, today is a pivotal day in the nomination process of this excellent judge. But it's a pivotal day for us here in the Senate as well. The ideals of justice that have served our nation so well for so long are on full display. So let's step back and sample a few of the choice moments that the Senate and the American people have been treated to during the disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful spectacle of the last two weeks.
The very night Judge Kavanaugh was announced as the president's choice, we heard the junior senator from Oregon declare that this nominee would pave the way to tyranny. His audience -- crowds of far- left protesters, still filling in the blanks on their picket signs. They weren't quite sure who the nominee was going to be yet.
We've heard the junior senator from New Jersey describe Judge Kavanaugh's nomination as a great moral struggle, in which there are just two camps. You're either complicit in the evil or you're fighting against it.
More recently, we have heard the junior senator from Hawaii argue that her personal disagreement with Judge Kavanaugh's judicial philosophy meant. Now listen to this. He deserved less of a presumption of innocence when it came to allegations of misconduct. You disagree with her, you're not entitled to the presumption of innocence when it comes to allegations of misconduct.
That's from a member of the Judiciary Committee? That's the definition of due process? Apparently you get due process only if you agree with her.
And even more recently, we saw the junior senator from Rhode Island hold forth with great confidence, great confidence, offering his expert interpretations of goofy jokes in high school yearbooks from the early 1980s. That was incredible.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, many women live in fear. How do you think Kavanaugh will make us feel?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you made your final decision how you'll vote on Brett Kavanaugh?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I will be -- I will be voting yes on proceeding to the final confirmation vote, and I will announce my intentions on how to vote later today. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you made your mind up, Senator? Senator, have you made your mind up?
BLITZER: There you heard it, she'll vote yes on this procedural vote that's coming up in the next few minutes, but later this afternoon, we're told about 3:00 p.m., she'll announce how she'll vote tomorrow on the final vote for passage. Let's go back to the majority leader.
MCCONNELL: -- to public discourse? Before the ink had dried on Justice Kennedy's retirement, our Democratic colleagues made it perfectly clear what this process would be about. Delay, obstruct, and resist. And before the ink had dried on Judge Kavanaugh's nomination, colleagues across the aisle, including Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee, were racing to announce they had made up their minds and were totally opposed to his confirmation.
Mere hours after Judge Kavanaugh was nominated, my friend the Democratic leader promised, quote, "I will oppose him with everything I've got," he said.
[10:25:09] Hours after he was nominated. It was thus abundantly clear that his number one political goal was to defeat the nomination by any means necessary. It was right there from the beginning, Madam President. A clear declaration, plain as day, nothing, nothing could get most Democrats to consider this nominee with an open mind.
It would be delaying tactics, obstruction, and so-called resistance until the final vote was called. For a few weeks, their efforts played out along the lines that sadly have become somewhat ordinary around here. There were excuses for delay. Those fell flat. There were gross distortions of Judge Kavanaugh's record that were batted down by outside fact checkers. And there were all the usual phony apocalyptic pronouncements that are shouted whenever a Republican president dares to nominate a Supreme Court justice.
Happens every time. Hostile to women, hostile to vulnerable people, hostile to workers. Same old tricks, same old playbook. But here was the problem. The old plays weren't working. The distortions were being literally drowned out by the facts. Senators received and reviewed more pages of background materials on Judge Kavanaugh's nomination than for every previous Supreme Court nomination combined.
We read Judge Kavanaugh's 12-year record of judicial rulings from our nation's second highest court, 300-plus opinions. We heard sworn testimony, written accounts from hundreds of character witnesses from all stages of Judge Kavanaugh's life and career. And the picture painted by these facts was nothing like the caricature. Nothing like the caricature.
So it was clear, Madam President, the old tactics weren't working. Wasn't going to get the job done. The resistance demanded more. Try something new, they said. Well, we all know what happened next. Uncorroborated allegations of the most sensitive, most serious sort were quickly sharpened into political weapons. One such allegation shared by Dr. Ford in confidence with the Democratic side of the Judiciary Committee somehow mysteriously found its way into the press.
Well, Chairman Grassley immediately set out on a sober focused search for the truth. The committee collected testimony, organized a new hearing, and most recently asked for the supplemental FBI background investigation, Judge Kavanaugh's seventh, seventh FBI investigation.
By any fair standard, the facts, the actual facts, proved to be straightforward. No corroborating evidence, none. None. Was produced to support any of the allegations leveled against Judge Kavanaugh. No corroborating evidence from the FBI inquiry or from anywhere else. Nothing.
Well, that wasn't enough for our Democratic colleagues, of course. The facts were not exactly the point, after all, we sort of get it by now. When the very FBI investigation for which they had been clamoring turned up no new evidence, the Democrats moved the goalpost yet again.
I believe the latest story is that the whole investigation is invalid. Now listen to this, because individuals who had only recently been told second hand or third hand about nearly 40-year-old allegations weren't treated as essential witnesses.
Let me say that again. The latest story is that the whole investigation is invalid because individuals who had only recently been told second hand or third hand about nearly 40-year-old allegations weren't treated as essential witnesses. Never mind that they didn't actually witness anything. They didn't witness anything.
So let's be clear, Madam President, these are not witnesses. These are people supposedly in possession of heresy that they first heard 35 years after the supposed fact. What nonsense. The people whom Dr. Ford claimed were witnesses, they have spoken with the FBI.