Raucous start to Kavanaugh hearing as Democrats demand delay

Washington (AFP) –


The confirmation hearing for US President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee quickly descended into chaos Tuesday with Democrats repeatedly demanding a postponement over withheld documents, and protesters loudly shouting their opposition.

"I move to adjourn," said Senator Richard Blumenthal, one of several Democrats who interrupted the hearing, insisting lawmakers needed time to review thousands of documents related to nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh that were released Monday night by the administration.

Republicans had hoped to use the four-day gathering as an opportunity to highlight Kavanaugh's distinguished career as a US Court of Appeals judge in Washington.

But within moments of Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley banging the gavel, Democrats launched what appeared to be coordinated protests against moving ahead with the hearing on Kavanaugh's lifetime appointment to the highest US court.

"This process will be tainted and stained forever" should it proceed as scheduled, Blumenthal said.

"The motion is denied," Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley responded, as he vowed to carry on through the end of the week, if necessary, to complete the hearing.

Kavanaugh, holding his daughter's hand and smiling broadly as he entered the hearing rooming, sat stone-faced minutes later as lawmakers spoke loudly over one another and protesters erupted in anger from the back of the hearing room, leading police to eject them from the proceedings.

The scenes were extraordinary, even for those with decades of Capitol Hill experience, as lawmakers spent more than an hour debating a pathway forward.

"This is something I've never gone through before," acknowledged Grassley.

Senator John Cornyn, the chamber's number two Republican, likened the developments to "mob rule."

Grassley argued that the panel has already received more than 400,000 pages of Kavanaugh-related documents.

But Democrats repeatedly broke into Grassley's opening remarks to demand a halt in order to be allowed time to study the 42,000 pages released by the White House just 15 hours before the start of the hearing.

- 'What is the rush?' -

They also pushed for the release of 100,000 more pages they say are being withheld by the administration, particularly those related to his time in George W. Bush's legal office and as White House staff secretary.

"What is the rush? What are we hiding by not letting these documents come out?" asked Senator Cory Booker.

While Democrats said it would have taken "superhuman" efforts to read the recently released 42,000 pages before the hearing, the Judiciary Committee insisted the Republican staff had "completed its review of each and every one of these pages."

Kavanaugh, 53, would replace retired swing-vote justice Anthony Kennedy, a move that could solidify a hard-right majority on the nine-member court and help shape key aspects of American society for a generation or more.

Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the Senate. Should a single Republican defect to oppose Kavanaugh it could throw his confirmation into jeopardy, but there has been little sign that any member of the GOP was prepared to buck Trump and their party leadership.

In excerpts from his opening statement, Kavanaugh said he is a "pro-law judge" who would bring his impartiality to the nation's high court.

"A good judge must be an umpire -- a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy," he said in the excerpts released by the White House.

"I don't decide cases based on personal or policy preferences."

Around two dozen witnesses are lined up to argue for and against confirming Kavanaugh.

Should the high-stakes confirmation hearing proceed to the questioning, as scheduled on Wednesday, Democrats are expected to strongly press Kavanaugh on his position on abortion, and notably the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade case, as well as his endorsement of presidential immunity.

Democrats have been fiercely critical of the Trump administration for not providing sufficient documentation about Kavanaugh's time in Bush's White House, where he may have played key roles in terrorism-related decisions, such as permitting the torture of detainees.