“In the end, there is likely to be as much doubt as certainty going out of this room today,” said Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, one of the Republicans who had been most insistent on holding the hearing in the first place. That Delphic assertion was about the only thing that seemed certain after hours of intense, emotional, and diametrically opposed testimony by accuser and accused.
Ford, a research psychologist with scientific training in brain function, held the committee spellbound all morning. When Senator Patrick Leahy asked what she most remembers of the night when she says Kavanaugh and another teenage boy locked her in a bedroom at a party, her answer was searing and unforgettable. “Indelible in the hippocampus,” she said, referring to the part of the brain where memory is lodged, “is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and they’re having fun at my expense.”
But Kavanaugh’s afternoon testimony was if anything more emotional, as he struggled repeatedly, drinking water and sniffling to choke back tears, while he described the toll that the accusations of sexual misconduct had taken on him and his family after “my 53 years and seven months on this Earth,” in which he said no such allegation had ever been lodged against him. In a stunning abandonment of the typically tempered tone of judicial nominees, he lit into his Democratic critics on the committee, declaring, “You sowed the wind for decades to come. I fear that the whole country will reap the whirlwind.”
In Donald Trump’s America, the hearing seemed yet one more grim moment in which left and right have dug in further, and nobody’s mind was really changed. By evening, the Senate’s Republican leadership had decided to hold a committee vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Friday and a floor vote on Saturday.
“Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him,” the president tweeted after the hearing. “His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”
Trump was reported to have been underwhelmed by Kavanaugh’s stolid defense of himself in a Fox News interview earlier this week, but he surely thrilled to Kavanaugh’s relentlessly pugnacious performance before the committee. Again and again, Kavanaugh interrupted his Democratic interrogators, turning their questions back on them. At one point, he went so far as to ask Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the daughter of an alcoholic who wanted to know whether he had ever experienced memory blackouts from drinking, “Have you?” (He later apologized.)
The dynamic of the afternoon hearing changed sharply after Durbin peppered Kavanaugh with questions about whether he himself favored an additional FBI investigation into claims by Ford and others. “I welcome whatever the committee wants to do,” Kavanaugh said. “I want to know what you want!” Durbin rejoined. Kavanaugh seemed briefly stunned into silence.