‘The most telling moment’: Sen. Amy Klobuchar in national spotlight after Brett Kavanaugh hearings

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Gabriella Demczuk/Pool via REUTERS
Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s handling of the exchange with Judge Brett Kavanaugh and her questioning during the hearing fueled more social media buzz for a presidential run.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is known for taking a sober, detail-oriented approach in questioning those who appear before the committee. It’s a fitting style for the former Hennepin County prosecutor, but it doesn’t always lead to fireworks in the high-profile Supreme Court and cabinet hearings that this committee hosts.

That’s a reason why Klobuchar’s exchange with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Thursday was so remarkable — and a reason why pundits and other political figures turned to the two-term senator as a bright spot in a day otherwise defined by pain, anger and concerns over a deteriorating civic process.

Kavanaugh appeared before the Judiciary Committee to face questions over an allegation that he sexually assaulted a woman, Christine Blasey Ford, while the two were teenagers in 1982. The federal judge’s drinking habits were under the microscope: Ford alleges Kavanaugh was visibly intoxicated during the assault, and a wealth of evidence indicates he traveled in hard-drinking social circles in high school and college. Kavanaugh denies Ford’s allegations and the characterization of a booze-soaked adolescence, and has insisted he focused on sports, school, and church.

Klobuchar followed this line of inquiry and prefaced it by noting that her father, the longtime Star Tribune journalist Jim Klobuchar, was a longtime abuser of alcohol. Kavanaugh prefaced his own responses to Klobuchar by noting the respect he has for the senator — a kindness he extended to no other Democrat on the panel.

“Drinking is one thing, but the concern is about truthfulness,” Klobuchar said. “In your written testimony, you said sometimes you had too many drinks. Was there ever a time when you drank so much you couldn’t remember what happened, or part of what happened, the night before?”

“I, no, I remember what happened,” Kavanaugh replied. “I think you’ve probably had beers, senator.” Klobuchar, nodding slightly, returned to the questioning: “You’re saying there’s never been a case when you drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened the night before, or part of what happened?”

“You’re asking about a blackout,” the judge responded. “I don’t know, have you?” A moment of stunned silence. “Can you answer the question, judge?” Klobuchar continued. “That’s not happened, that’s your answer?”

“Yeah, and I’m curious if you have?” Kavanaugh replied. “I have no drinking problem,” Klobuchar said with a nervous laugh. “Nor do I,” he said.

After a brief recess, Kavanaugh apologized, but on Twitter and on TV, many observers were still processing the spectacle of the embattled judge asking a senior female senator point-blank if she’d ever blacked out.

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative commentator for the Washington Post and a prominent critic of President Trump and the GOP, wrote a column later in the evening calling the exchange the “most telling moment” of a hearing in which a yelling, angry Kavanaugh appeared unable or unwilling to get out of attack mode.

“It was a moment of singular cruelty and disrespect,” Rubin said. “One saw a flash in the exchange with Klobuchar the same sense of entitlement, cruelty and lack of simple decency that Christine Blasey Ford allegedly experienced way back when, the memory seared in her brain of two obnoxious teens laughing at her ordeal.” Noting Kavanaugh’s apology, Rubin wrote: “The damage was done. The spontaneous reaction was the real one.”

The exchange even seemed to rally hard-core Kavanaugh supporters to Klobuchar, like the blogger Erick Erickson, who has spent the last few weeks excoriating Democrats over their handling of the harassment allegations. “I disagree with her politics, but if more Senators behaved like Amy Klobuchar behaved today, we’d have a far more dignified process and Senate,” Erickson tweeted on Thursday night.

Democrats, meanwhile, were effusive in their praise and defense of Klobuchar. First District Rep. Tim Walz, the DFL candidate for governor, tweeted on Friday that Klobuchar has “been a beacon of truth, justice, and rationality. We are incredibly fortunate to have her representing us in the U.S. Senate.”

Klobuchar’s handling of the exchange and her questioning during the hearing also fueled more social media buzz for a presidential run — a long-rumored possibility for the senator — than she’s ever generated. The journalist Dan Rather tweeted “the Kavanaugh hearings further cemented my belief that Amy Klobuchar has a real chance at being the next president of the United States.”

In appearances on Friday, Klobuchar stopped short of spiking the football: on CBS “This Morning,” she said that she would have gotten thrown out of Kavanaugh’s courtroom in a trial if she behaved like he had. As the Judiciary Committee met on Friday to consider advancing Kavanaugh’s nomination, she was somewhat more indignant: “When I asked him about this to try to get to the facts… what did I get in response?” the senator asked. “A question of if I black out.” (Klobuchar did not comment for this story.)

Lying about his past?

As Klobuchar’s remarks indicate, though, Kavanaugh didn’t really answer the question. Now, her line of inquiry will likely be picked up by the FBI, which the Judiciary Committee asked to investigate Ford’s claims in a surprising move on Friday.

According to Paul Schiff Berman, a professor at George Washington University Law School who teaches civil procedure, the most important question in the Kavanaugh fight has become the degree to which he is “outright lying” about his past, including how much he drank in high school and college.

“What I think Sen. Klobuchar was going for was a line of questioning that would suggest, first of all, that he drank far more in high school and college than he has admitted,” he said, “and that drinking is likely to have impaired his memory such that incidents like the ones that have been alleged could certainly have occurred.”

Echoing what some have argued, Berman said that Kavanaugh’s surreal response revealed more about who he is than anything he might have said in response to Klobuchar’s question. “It was probably the most telling moment of the whole proceeding,” he said, “because in that moment, you saw the belligerence and the nastiness of a person who one could then easily imagine having participated in some of the incidents he’s accused of having committed.”

Josh Barro, a centrist pundit who writes for New York Magazine, has argued that Senate Democrats largely botched their questioning of Kavanaugh — save for Klobuchar. “Klobuchar has managed to become the one Dem on the judiciary committee who conservatives think was acting in good faith,” he tweeted, “while also getting a damaging answer out of Kavanaugh and acquitting herself well with Democrats, which is quite a feat.”

Comments (33)

  1. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 09/28/2018 - 04:15 pm.

    Well, the Senator will get her wish. There will be an FBI investigation. The hated Mark Judge has said he’ll talk to them.

    We know what the outcome will be, all the players have made statements under penalty of purgury; who believes they will change their stories now? Let’s see how sober and detail-satisfied the Senator is when this very last, desperate ploy is played out and comes up dry.

    • Submitted by John Evans on 09/28/2018 - 07:53 pm.

      Well, no, Mark Judge hasn’t. His lawyer sent a statement in a letter that was signed only by the lawyer, not by Mark Judge. Until he’s under oath, or he’s being questioned on the record by the FBI, he can say anything he wants without jeopardy.

      And remember the other three people whom Ford alleges were at the house simply said they had no memory of the get-together. So none of the people named by Ford, except Kavanaugh himself have really contradicted Ford’s allegation.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 09/29/2018 - 06:13 am.

        He sent the committee a declaration yesterday signed by him under penalty of felony. It says he doesn’t know what Ford is talking about, and he’s never seen Kav act like that.

        • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/30/2018 - 06:06 pm.

          Markk Judge should have been called to testify before the Judiciary Committee before their hearing oh Dr. Ford’s experience of assault by him and Brett Kavanaugh i 1982. He coould have been iterviewed by the FBI–there were two weeks of time for that. And, in his letter, he does not refute Dr Ford’s veersio of events; he simply says he doesn’t remember.

          Of course, given the roaring drunk that he himself says or wrote that he was, it’s no surprise that he can’t remember what happened. But actually, when the FBI questions him about his late-summer 1982 encounter with Christine Blasey outside the store where he worked and was ashen with shame at seeing here? nervous to be in her presence? Why was thst, I wonder? The FBI will find some facts there.

          The others present at the July 1, 1982 impromptu party (Blasey’s boyfriend, a guy named PJ, and her female friend) just don’t recall a run-of-the-mill party, although it’s in Kavanaugh’s “calendar.” And certainly they don’t recall the attack on Christine Blasey, because they didn’t witness that attack (they were downstairs, while she was assaulted in a locked bedroom upstairs, and walked straight out of the house when she escaped). I look forward to the FBi’s report of these facts.

          I really wish the do-called Kavanaugh supporters would listen better, read ore of the facts already presented. It’s sad and depressing to realize tht they just spew inaccuracies and conspiracy theories without a basis.

          And, I feel especially bad for those Republican women who cannot find it plausible that any American woman or girl has been raped. Ever. All such stories are fabrications? That attitude takes the breath away.

          • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 10/01/2018 - 07:13 am.

            “The others present at the July 1, 1982 impromptu party (Blasey’s boyfriend…”

            What? Where did you hear she had a boyfriend involved? Where do you people come up with this stuff?

    • Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 10/01/2018 - 04:32 pm.

      There is no doubt in my mind that Dr. Ford is telling her version of the incident as she recalls it. What I do not understand, is that given his testimony to date, why Judge Kavanaugh insists that it could not have happened. It seems to me that an honest man would concede at least that it could have happened as she described even though he doesn’t remember the incident specifically because he was quite likely intoxicated.

      An honest man would then turn to Dr. Ford and acknowledged her pain, apologized sincerely for his behavior and then ask for her forgiveness. At that point I think it becomes a lot easier for the Judiciary Committee to look past that incident as a youthful indiscretion for which he can be forgiven.

      Instead, Judge Kavanaugh seem to have embraced the Trump methodology of deny everything, apologize to no one for anything, and never tell the truth if the lie serves your interests better.

  2. Submitted by Jeffrey Gagen on 09/28/2018 - 04:29 pm.

    Anybody that DESPERATE to be a Supreme Court Justice doesn’t belong there.
    Dragging his poor wife onto FOX News for a softball interview and then this entitled pity party disqualifies him.

    Surely there are lots of other right wing partisans that have better temperament and that have never assaulted women, aren’t there?

  3. Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/28/2018 - 06:10 pm.

    I would oppose him simply for the way he spoke to Klobuchar. That jerk is unfit to judge a dog show, much less sit on the Supreme Court.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/29/2018 - 06:38 am.

      Egads, the Choir Boy was extremely rude and disrespectful to all of the women senators, not just Klobs.

      Maybe if the women senators had a “certain look”, like the women law clerks he liked.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/30/2018 - 03:22 pm.

      Senator Klobuchar showed a great deal of restraint–“inherent respect,” if you will–by not moving to have Judge Kavanaugh held in contempt.

      • Submitted by Pat Brady on 10/04/2018 - 06:19 am.

        Senaotr Liindsey Graham now says that it should be Senator Amy Klobuchar that needs to apologize to Kavanaugh!
        Of course , this statement was during a gig on Fox , playing to Trumps audience?
        Senator Amy Klobucher is an expamle of what a seiorus thoguhtful Senator looks like during a confirmaiton hearing.

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/28/2018 - 08:46 pm.

    Klobuchar’s questions went to the issue of whether Kavanaugh has an alcohol problem: i.e is he an alcoholic? In my own experience, I’ve known guys who drink and don’t “black out” but become mean, belligerent and combative. And then don’t remember such behavior the next day. I’m encouraged that her questions will be further investigated by the FBI.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/29/2018 - 06:40 am.

      “..mean, belligerent, and combative.”

      That’s how he was on Thursday afternoon. Does the 3 martini lunch still live in DC?

    • Submitted by Gordon Stewart on 09/29/2018 - 08:43 am.

      Indeed. “I’m encouraged that her questions will be further investigated by the FBI.” One can hope the FBI investigation is thorough and that its findings will provide definitive evidence that either exonerates the nominee or corroborates and confirms Dr. Ford’s and others’ allegations.

  5. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 09/28/2018 - 09:49 pm.

    The hypocricy of the GOP is stunning. Whining and crying because they must push there guy through in a very short time and yet Merritt Garland wasn’t even given a hearing because President Obama had less than a year to do in office. Mitch McConnell is drunk with power and doesn’t now how to use it because he doesn’t have any ethics. Kavenaugh appears to be a text book case of why it isn’t good to rush judicial life time appointments when all the fact are not known, only the select facts the GOP wants you to know. Dr. Ford did a credible job during her testimony, so says Trump. For once I have to agree with Trump. Kavenaugh’s demeaner was totally different yesterday than during his confirmation hearings. Yesterday we saw the real Kavenaugh as he came across as an alcoholic frat boy vs a rational reason minded judge. Jeff Flakes saved the GOP leadership from jumping off the cliff to sure disaster today as the leadership wanted to push ahead with the Kavanaugh nomination and he just might be unfit for the Supreme Court. Trump loves to trumpet, pardon the pun, that he picks the best people for the job. Kavanaugh just might get added to scrap heap of Trump’s people that didn’t turn out to be the best people as Trump advertised.

  6. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 09/29/2018 - 07:10 am.

    Caring, pleasant, hardworking and competent. Amy could be a model President or Supreme Court Chief Justice. Exact opposite of Kavanaugh and Trump. An effective politician with their ego in check – how delightful. Boosting about getting things in zw

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/29/2018 - 12:50 pm.

      Please, no. We don’t need to run another middle of the road “let’s work with the other side” candidate for the White House.

      At his rambling, barely coherent press conference this week, Don Trump torched the Democrats at least as much as Kavanaugh did on Thursday when he brought up a crazy left wing conspiracy plot..

      This is the side that Obama reached out to for healthcare, by proposing a conservative plan, Romneycare. This is the side that left a SCOTUS seat open for more than a year, because they could. Don Trump is in office because of corporate Dems like Obama and both Clintons. We don’t need to find out what happens when a middle of the roader like Klobs runs for Prez.

      And I for one would like to know just what Klobs “gets done.” She has no bold plans for income inequality, healthcare reform, labor law reform, corporate reform, or reigning in the big banksters. She won’r do that, because that wouldn’t fly with the other side she wants to work with. You know, the side that is committed to low wages for all and democracy for none.

      Dems need bold ideas to win the White House, not someone who will quietly work with those committed to her failure, as McConnell and Boehner were.

      • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 10/01/2018 - 08:29 am.

        Sorry but the middle of the road is EXACTLY what we need. You might want to recognize how evenly divided the country is right now. Each side complains that Congress doesn’t get things done. And why is that? Because each side spends their time dismantling what the other side has done.

        Both sides need to recognize that cooperation and negotiation is what’s needed. Refusing to play with others, taking your toys and going home works about as well in Congress as it does in preschool.

  7. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 09/29/2018 - 07:13 am.

    Boosting about getting thinks fmdonevin Washington is one thing. Actually doing them is another. Amy gets it done.

    PS – two comments because it published mid sentence.

  8. Submitted by Gordon Stewart on 09/29/2018 - 08:34 am.

    Judge Kavanaugh forgot he wasn’t ruling his courtroom. His belligerent retort to Sen. Klobuchar’s most poignant question was evidence of the kind of behavior Professor Ford alleges. “in that moment, you saw the belligerence and the nastiness of a person who one could then easily imagine having participated in some of the incidents he’s accused of having committed.” It was a moment that revealed the entitled character of white privilege, belligerence, and misogyny.

    The other telling moment was committee’s shift in protocol of relying on Ms. Mitchell to conduct their questioning. When she got too close in her search for truth, those who had yielded their five minutes to Ms. Mitchell suddenly stopped her inquiry without explanation. The 11 men who had brought her from Arizona suddenly silenced her. They use their five minutes to attack their colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Suddenly, it was the Democrats, not the nominee, who were the focus if the hearing. They never yielded their time to Ms. Mitchell again.

  9. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 09/29/2018 - 09:34 am.

    The Judicial committee, as well as the rest of Washington, is proof positive there needs to be age caps on politicians. Trump, Grassley, Hatch, and McConnell, just to name a few,have all out lived their usefulness as politicians as evidenced by their out of touch ability to deal with any thing requiring sensitivity. Trump did want Kavenaugh bad enough that he did stay relatively quiet for most of the process. I sense Trump’s staff had him tied up and took his twitter account away from him. Now seeing that Kavenaugh might not be the best person for the job Trump is subtly trying to pivot while scraping the egg off his face.

    • Submitted by Jeanne Francois on 10/01/2018 - 09:38 am.

      Did you mistakenly or conveniently forget to mention Diane Feinstein at 85 should have been age-capped out of public office many, many years ago. Her lying about the leak reminds me of a child getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Case in point, when questioned at the hearing on Thursday if her staff might have leaked the contents of Christine Ford’s letter she replied she had not asked them. Seriously? Let’s not loose sight of the fact that the lies started with her.

      I fully support Amy Klobuchar for a presidential run in 2020, but in the meantime I will be watching very closely how she conducts herself in these very partisan issues when there is enough blame to go full circle.

  10. Submitted by Dorothy Crouch on 09/29/2018 - 11:36 am.

    I’m disgusted with this entire campaign against Kavanaugh. The MeToo movement has gone too far. What other charge can be made against a man but sexual harassment or assault that results in his being tried in the court of public opinion. It’s guilty until proven innocent. For shame. That isn’t one of the tenants of our government. It is obviously a political move to eliminate a candidate who might make a decision that threatens Roe vs. Wade. Democrats and Progressives for shame! And I’ve considered myself to be one. No more!

    • Submitted by Brian Gandt on 09/30/2018 - 09:44 am.

      You considered yourself a progressive, yet you’re going to switch sides over this? That is quite a jump!

    • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 10/01/2018 - 08:34 am.

      Hate to break this to you Dorothy, but if you thought the MeToo movement has gone too far or aren’t concerned about Roe vs. Wade. then you were never a Progressive.

      Let’s stop with all the analogies to a criminal trial. This isn’t jurisprudence so all the comparisons are off base. This is a job interview. Are you going to claim that a job candidate has a presumption of being hired unless the employer can prove otherwise?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/01/2018 - 10:41 am.

      Exactly, this is basically a job interview. Can anyone imagine any prospect treating an employer the way Kavanaugh responded to Klobuchar and still getting the job? Can anyone imagine refusing to answer so many question or simply refusing to respond and still getting the job? And what kind of person just assumes they’ll get the job simply because they showed up for the interview? Is THAT person the person Kavanaugh describes himself to be?

  11. Submitted by richard owens on 09/29/2018 - 02:16 pm.

    We get a glimpse in these hearings of the lives of the very special best white men from all the best prep schools and elite colleges and law schools who serve our country with power and set all the standards for the rest of us. They are the crème de la crème.

    The fraternities and the secret clubs (reminiscent ‘Skull and Bones’ Dubya and daddy), become the actual manufacturing plants where Republican ideology is hammered into legal positions reliably supportive of the class structure that spawns them.

    The Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation provide an incubator where many a humble Republican lawyer, if he is sufficiently loyal and wealthy and knows the right people, can be groomed to be a perfect confident messenger. They have a lot more Kavanaughs that never had to submit to anything but financial encouragement and appointments waiting for the time when Obama was gone.

    Kavanaugh’s outrage at being doubted is simply not in the game plan and never was supposed to happen. He showed his class privilege and expectation of an acknowledged ‘superiority’ by chewing out the Senators of the lesser (D) kind.

    A microcosm of privilege and class entitlement brought to you by the same money that buys influence for the ruling class.

    Now everybody sees it.

  12. Submitted by Susan Maricle on 09/30/2018 - 10:11 am.

    Amy rocked it on Face the Nation. Unfortunately, the only way for a woman to get through is to be nice. If you’re Dianne Feinstein or Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton, you’re considered a divisive harpy. Divisiveness and belligerence in men like Kavanaugh and Trump? A sign of strength.

  13. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 10/03/2018 - 09:02 pm.

    Since I didn’t see the hearings, were there any questions about competence in previous judicial positions, years of service, qualifications, awards, comments from previous co-workers (judges), etc.? Seems like a shame if the only consideration is an incident (that cannot be proven or disproven) that may or may not have happened when the job applicant was in high school. Where is that box on the job application?

  14. Submitted by Pat Berg on 09/30/2018 - 05:34 pm.

    The Repubs don’t care. They just want someone installed who will turn in reliably restrictive and conservative rulings before they possibly lose all their power at the midterms.

    “Integrity schmintegrity!” Cement a conservative majority on SCOTUS and damn the torpedoes!

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