Last week, former Vice-President Joe Biden announced his candidacy for the 2020 Presidential race. He has an early lead in polls, but several women have come forward to accuse him of inappropriate behavior, and he is facing renewed scrutiny for how, as a senator, he handled Anita Hill’s testimony during Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, in 1991. Jane Mayer and Evan Osnos join Dorothy Wickenden to discuss the first Presidential campaign of the #MeToo era.
For the President, the whole fight has been the kind of win he loves: divisive and loud, with enraged liberals sputtering and his political base riled up.
In this polarized, Trump-era Senate, with its 51-49 Republican majority, there are, in fact, few genuine fence-sitters, and moments of high drama are rare. John McCain’s late-night thumbs-down sinking of last year’s Obamacare repeal was an outlier, not a precedent. Jeff Flake often appears ready to buck his Republican leadership, but hardly ever does so. Susan Collins, as the Boston Globe pointed out this summer, has voted with fellow-Republicans ninety-nine per cent of the time on judicial nominations. And she was always leaning toward doing so in the case of Kavanaugh. Party usually wins out.
.. That Ford had blown up her whole life to testify, only to have Republicans praise her as “credible” but disregard her story? For his part, Kavanaugh will take a seat on the Supreme Court forever shadowed by allegations that few will believe fully disproved, given an investigation so cursory that the F.B.I. interviewed just nine people and spent just a few days on the matter.
.. Kavanaugh himself will go down as the most openly partisan candidate to make it to the Supreme Court in modern times, having taken the unprecedented step of campaigning for his job on Fox News and in the Wall Street Journal, while blaming the allegations against him on Trump-hating Democrats out for revenge “on behalf of the Clintons.”
.. “I could have been Anita Hill,” she pointed out, “but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want it to ruin my life.” I wondered whether Quinn would think things were different this time, that the world had changed at all in the nearly thirty years since she had her own chance to decide whether to go public with her story of abuse at the hands of a powerful man. No way, she said. “Nothing has changed since Anita Hill, not a damn thing.”
.. Quinn said that she believed Ford had been telling the truth, but that it would not matter. “Bottom line,” she said, “civic duty or no, it’s just not worth it.”
In 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee had an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court. It failed on both counts.
As that same committee, on which sit some of the same members as nearly three decades ago, now moves forward with the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings, the integrity of the court, the country’s commitment to addressing sexual violence as a matter of public interest, and the lives of the two principal witnesses who will be testifying hang in the balance.
.. the public expects better from our government than we got in 1991, when our representatives performed in ways that gave employers permission to mishandle workplace harassment complaints throughout the following decades.
.. That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement.
.. To do better, the 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee must demonstrate a clear understanding that sexual violence is a social reality to which elected representatives must respond.
.. The details of what that process would look like should be guided by experts who have devoted their careers to understanding sexual violence.
.. Select a neutral investigative body with experience in sexual misconduct cases that will investigate the incident in question and present its findings to the committee. Outcomes in such investigations are more reliable and less likely to be perceived as tainted by partisanship. Senators must then rely on the investigators’ conclusions, along with advice from experts, to frame the questions they ask Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey.
.. The investigators’ report should frame the hearing, not politics or myths about sexual assault.
.. Do not rush these hearings. Doing so would not only signal that sexual assault accusations are not important — hastily appraising this situation would very likely lead to facts being overlooked that are necessary for the Senate and the public to evaluate.
.. Process is important, but it cannot erase the difficulty of testifying on national television about the sexual assault that Dr. Blasey says occurred when she was 15 years old. Nor will it negate the fact that as she sits before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dr. Blasey will be outresourced. Encouraging letters from friends and strangers may help, but she cannot match the organized support that Judge Kavanaugh has.
Judge Kavanaugh has told associates that he did not know who his accuser was until she identified herself in The Post and that once he saw her name he vaguely recalled her being part of the social circle associated with his all-boys high school in suburban Maryland at the time.
A person close to Dr. Blasey, who asked not to be identified to discuss her situation in detail, said Dr. Blasey knew the future Judge Kavanaugh in passing before the gathering where she says the attack took place, which could make it harder for his defenders to make a case that she had confused him for someone else.
.. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, posted on Twitter a video clip of Judge Kavanaugh speaking at his alma mater, Georgetown Preparatory School, in 2015. “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep,” he said to laughter. “That’s been a good thing for all of us, I think.”
.. The sight of Professor Hill being grilled on national television by an all-white, all-male Judiciary Committee enraged women, contributing to the so-called Year of the Woman in 1992 when scores of women ran for public office.
Republicans, clearly mindful of the optics, were considering employing a special counsel or staff to question Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh, to avoid a repeat of the Hill-Thomas scenario. Democrats accused Republicans of trying to rush through a hearing without a proper investigation of serious charges.
“She is under no obligation to participate in the Republican efforts to sweep the whole thing under the rug, to continue this nomination on a fast track,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, who won her Senate seat in 1992. “It’s basically a railroad job. This is what they did to Anita Hill.”
.. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican, called Dr. Blasey’s accusations “a drive-by attack on the character of this judge,” and referred to them as “false allegations,” in remarks on the Senate floor.
.. Uncharacteristically, the combative Mr. Trump stuck to the strategy of not attacking the accuser directly on Tuesday as well, instead expressing sympathy and faith in Judge Kavanaugh while assailing Democrats for trying to torpedo his nominee.
“I feel so badly for him that he’s going through this, to be honest with you,” Mr. Trump said of the judge. “I feel so badly for him. This is not a man that deserves this.”
Professor Hill, in an opinion article published Tuesday in The New York Times, warned senators against repeating her experience in 1991.
“That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement,” she wrote, adding that the committee should “serve as fact-finders” not “destroy the lives of witnesses who are called to testify.”