Does Joe Biden Have a #MeToo Problem?

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.

“None of This Was Fair”: the Kavanaugh Nomination Marks the Triumph of Trumpism on Capitol Hill

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.”

Anita Hill: How to Get the Kavanaugh Hearings Right

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.

Christine Blasey Ford Wants F.B.I. to Investigate Kavanaugh Before She Testifies

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.”

The Daily 202: Kavanaugh hearing offers an ‘unprecedented’ display of the Senate’s institutional decline

— Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said what was truly “unprecedented” was when Democrats blocked Robert Bork’s confirmation back in 1987. “This is my 15th Supreme Court confirmation hearing since I joined the committee in 1981,” said the Iowa Republican. “Thirty-one-years ago, during my fourth Supreme Court confirmation hearing, liberal outside groups and their Senate allies engaged in an unprecedented smear campaign against Judge Robert Bork.”

Bork, as the solicitor general, conspired with Richard Nixon in 1973 to carry out the “Saturday Night Massacre” and fire Archibald Cox in a scheme to obstruct the special prosecutor’s investigation into the Watergate affair. He did so after then-attorney general Elliot Richardson and deputy attorney general William Ruckelshaus had resigned rather than do so. Bork’s nomination to the high court went down 42 to 58 on the Senate floor, with six Republicans joining every Democrat in opposition. Ronald Reagan subsequently nominated Anthony Kennedy as a more moderate replacement.

.. — Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said what was truly “unprecedented” was when Democrats blocked Robert Bork’s confirmation back in 1987. “This is my 15th Supreme Court confirmation hearing since I joined the committee in 1981,” said the Iowa Republican. “Thirty-one-years ago, during my fourth Supreme Court confirmation hearing, liberal outside groups and their Senate allies engaged in an unprecedented smear campaign against Judge Robert Bork.”

Bork, as the solicitor general, conspired with Richard Nixon in 1973 to carry out the “Saturday Night Massacre” and fire Archibald Cox in a scheme to obstruct the special prosecutor’s investigation into the Watergate affair. He did so after then-attorney general Elliot Richardson and deputy attorney general William Ruckelshaus had resigned rather than do so. Bork’s nomination to the high court went down 42 to 58 on the Senate floor, with six Republicans joining every Democrat in opposition. Ronald Reagan subsequently nominated Anthony Kennedy as a more moderate replacement.

.. Kavanaugh is now up for this seat, which Grassley still resents did not go to Bork. The chairman read at length from an op-ed that ran over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal by conservative legal blogger Mark Pulliam. “By confirming Judge Kavanaugh,” Pulliam wrote, “the Senate can go some way toward atoning for its shameful treatment of Justice Robert Bork 31 years ago.”

.. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), whose father was Reagan’s solicitor general, also complained about Bork being blocked during his opening statement. “It remains something of a rock-bottom moment for the Senate and for the Senate Judiciary Committee,” he said.

.. The chorus of reverent Republican paeans to Bork, whose legacy will always be tainted by his role as the hatchet man in the “Saturday Night Massacre,” were particularly striking against the backdrop of Democratic charges that Kavanaugh would give legal air cover to Trump in the plausible scenario that he moves against Bob Mueller, as well as the continuing unwillingness of congressional Republicans to pass legislation that would safeguard the special counsel.

.. In this vein, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) argued that holding the hearing is “unprecedented … because [Trump] is an unindicted co-conspirator who has nominated a potential justice who will cast the swing vote on issues relating to his possible criminal culpability, including whether he is required to obey a subpoena or to appear before a grand jury, whether he is required to testify in a prosecution of his friends or associates or other officials in his administration and whether in fact he is required to stand trial if he is indicted while he is president.”

.. — Introducing himself to the committee as reasonable and collegial, Kavanaugh described Merrick Garland as a personal “friend” and a “superb” chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where they have served together for more than a decade. “I am proud of that body of work and I stand behind it,” Kavanaugh said.

Perhaps this was meant as an olive branch, but Democrats took it as trolling. Garland, after all, was Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia in 2016, and Senate Republicans refused to give him a hearing or otherwise consider his nomination. As much as anything else, the GOP’s treatment of Garland two years ago destroyed the last vestiges of comity in the judicial nominations process. Three Democrats cited him during the hearing on Tuesday to call for a postponement.

Kavanaugh’s comment about Garland wasn’t the only thing that rubbed salt in open wounds. Tuesday’s hearing featured sometimes naked displays of brute political force by a party that has just a one-seat majority in the Senate.

.. “You had a chance, and you lost,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told the Democrats. “If you want to pick judges from your way of thinking, then you better win an election.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) claimed that the GOP’s refusal to allow a hearing for Garland actually gives Gorsuch and Kavanaugh “super legitimacy” because voters in 2016 knew that the next president would get to pick at least one justice.By releasing a list of the judges he’d pick from, Cruz said, Trump provided “unprecedented transparency.”

“This is an attempt by the Democrats to relitigate the 2016 presidential election,” Cruz continued.

To be sure, when it looked like Hillary Clinton was probably going to win, Cruz argued that Republicans should consider keeping the seat vacant for her entire term.

.. these same GOP members have also been going to the White House complex for several weeks to participate in mock confirmation hearings with Kavanaugh.

They’ve pretended to be Democratic senators in these moot sessions and coached Kavanaugh on how to deflect expected inquiries from the other side.

.. “It’s mostly a sham,” said Whitehouse. “You know the game,” the senator told Kavanaugh, who looked back at him stone-faced. “In the Bush White House, you coached judicial nominees to just tell senators that they have a commitment to follow Supreme Court precedent, that they will adhere to statutory text and that they have no ideological agenda. Fairy tales!”

.. Last year, McConnell went “nuclear” — in the parlance of the Senate — by changing the rules of the body to allow Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed by a simple majority — instead of 60 votes. Harry Reid shortsightedly changed the rules four years earlier to allow lower-court nominees to be confirmed this way, but he said at the time that the Supreme Court process should stay sacrosanct.

.. Going nuclear means that presidents are more likely to pick ideological nominees when their party controls the Senate, whether from the right or the left, because they no longer need any members of the other party to cross over to secure 60 votes. Kavanaugh can be muscled onto the court with only GOP votes, which makes his confirmation a sort of fait accompli. He does not need to make concessions or agree to recuse himself from certain cases.

.. The result of the rule changes is a Senate that’s become more majoritarian. Members of the minority have fewer prerogatives. This is a recipe for institutional decay. No one who watched yesterday’s circus could credibly call the Senate the world’s greatest deliberative body. It certainly isn’t what James Madison had in mind when he designed the upper chamber as a cooling saucer on the passions of the people’s representatives in the House. Republicans will probably come to regret the rule changes when they again, inevitably, find themselves in the minority and Democrats treat them as they’re now being treated. That probably won’t happen next year, but perhaps in 2021 or 2023.

.. But there’s no going back now. Why would Democrats tie their hands and hold their nominees in the future to a higher standard than Republicans have held theirs? Neither party’s base would tolerate unilateral disarmament.

.. “It was a poisonous session, as acrimonious as I have witnessed since sitting in the committee’s hearing room for the grilling of Anita Hill during the second round of the Clarence Thomas hearings,” writes columnist Ruth Marcus.“And while no dispute over documents, however impassioned, can rival the Hill-Thomas encounter, the Republican majority’s handling of this issue will be even more dangerous for the future of the Senate’s ability to conduct its constitutional duty of advice and consent.
 “Kavanaugh may not become the most conservative member of the court, but his background suggests he would be the most partisan,” Dana Milbank explains in today’s paper. “Democrats say the committee received only 7 percent of Kavanaugh’s White House documents — and some of those have been altered, while half cannot be discussed publicly. Why? They would likely reinforce what is already known about Kavanaugh as a nakedly partisan appointment, solidifying the court’s transition from a deliberative body to what is effectively another political branch. …
..  ‘a cynical view of Kavanaugh’s actions would be that he bases his legal reasoning on his conservative views — that he supports broad powers for a Republican president and circumscribed powers for a Democratic president.’ What has emerged about Kavanaugh — particularly his vulgar plan to humiliate [Bill] Clinton — reinforces that cynical view. This is why Kavanaugh’s defenders don’t want the documents to come out.”

Re-watching Joe Biden’s disastrous Anita Hill hearing: A sexual harassment inquisition

There was, Hill and others said later, some extreme tone deafness.

In asking Hill to describe the sexually charged moments with Thomas, Biden asked, “Can you tell us how you felt at the time? Were you uncomfortable, were you embarrassed, did it not concern you? How did you feel about it?”

The most brutal questioning came from Biden’s Republican colleague on the committee, the late Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

“You testified this morning,” Specter said, “that the most embarrassing question involved — this is not too bad — women’s large breasts. That is a word we use all the time. That was the most embarrassing aspect of what Judge Thomas had said to you.”

Hill quickly chided Specter for not characterizing her remarks correctly. Left uncritiqued: Specter’s suggestion that talk of breasts at work was, you know, no big deal.

Specter could not understand, he said, how a seasoned lawyer like herself had not taken notes on the incidents. That was suspicious to him. He openly wondered about her political motivations and whether the committee should trust her recollections of the incidents between her and Thomas, who adamantly denied every allegation.

Al Franken’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ era was full of jokes disparaging women

On the sixth floor of 30 Rock, women have long been portrayed as sexual conquests, victims or aggressors, live on Saturday nights. During the 1990s in particular, SNL excelled at celebrating male libido and a get-away-with-anything approach to sex, while reducing women to their sexual function. The show consistently cheered male sexuality and reinforced its boundlessness (consent be damned), while shaming women who reached for power or were unlucky enough to be publicly associated with sex.

The SNL writers’ room is famously collaborative, so it’s hard to know how many such bits Franken specifically wrote. But as a writer on 285 episodes from 1976 to 2008, he undoubtedly influenced the zeitgeist of the show during that era.

 .. Chris Rock savages Hill for rejecting Thomas’s advances. Thomas “could have picked a much better-looking woman to blow his career on,” Rock explains. “He never touched her, and he’s going to lose the Supreme Court and didn’t even get to sleep with her, and that’s the real tragedy.”
.. Again, the laughs: Thomas’s sexual inadequacy is what’s supposed to be funny. SNL imagines that sexual harassment is hilarious and that unattractive women deserve it.
.. One 1996 skit about O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark portrays her as an erotomaniac or “fatal attraction type” — a derogation hurled at women during the 1990s, including at Anita Hill and Monica Lewinsky, to discredit them and weaponize their sexuality. Clark, played by Nancy Walls, is less interested in the case’s outcome than forcing fellow prosecutor Christopher Darden to sleep with her, or “take the black bronco down the 405,” as the show put it. “The only thing I’m guilty of is being extremely horny,” Walls says. “Please remove your pants.”
.. Ferrell said in an interview that he wouldn’t have played Reno the way he did if she were a “normal woman.” In other words, because Reno didn’t always fit neatly into the stereotypical roles SNL ascribed to women — sexually aggressive like Clark or sexually victimized like Hill — the country’s chief law enforcement officer became a fake woman, just Ferrell in drag.
.. What’s clear, in truth, is that American comedy culture has used sexual abuse as fodder for too long.
.. From Franken and Harvey Weinstein to Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, women are reckoning with the painful reality that powerful men recently accused of sexual misconduct have long been the media and cultural gatekeepers in America.
They’ve been the arbiter and the lens, determining what is newsworthy, what is socially acceptable and, in Franken’s case, what is funny.
.. You can tell an awful lot about a society based on what it thinks is funny.