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Kavanaugh grilled in Senate as 'pandemonium' grips confirmation hearing

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Brett Kavanaugh listens to a debate before speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday for the first day of his confirmation hearings on his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI

By Doug G. Ware, Sommer Brokaw and Danielle Haynes, UPI

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh probably expected stiff resistance Tuesday at the start of his confirmation hearings, and that's precisely what he got.

Kavanaugh was questioned by the Senate judiciary committee, in the first step toward confirmation. He was nominated by President Donald Trump in July.

The start of the hearing included an opening statement by Kavanaugh, which was followed by a number of terse moments -- particularly concerning tens of thousands of documents that detail his work in former President George W. Bush's administration.

The Trump administration has refused to release the documents, and Democrats say they can't go forward with Kavanaugh's nomination without them.

"For the sake of this nation, for the sanctity of the Constitution that we both honor, step up, ask this meeting, this gathering, to suspend until all the documents of your public career are there for the American people to see," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said at Tuesday's hearing.

"If you will trust the American people, they will trust you too. But if your effort today continues to conceal and hide documents it raises a suspicion."

Before an afternoon break, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, defended the move, saying Democrats are trying to "re-litigate the 2016 election."

"Judge Kavanaugh has handed over more documents than any nominee, more than the last five combined, Republicans and Democrat nominees," Cruz said. "It's not about documents, it's not about qualifications, it's not about record, what it is about is politics.

"At the end of what Shakespeare would describe as a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing I'm confident that judge Kavanaugh will become justice Kavanaugh and will be confirmed to the Supreme Court."

Kavanaugh, a U.S. circuit judge of the U.S. Court of appeals, was nominated by Trump to the bench as a replacement for retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. He previously served as White House staff secretary under Bush, and played a key role in the investigation of former President Bill Clinton. For weeks, Kavanaugh has met with various lawmakers on Capitol Hill in anticipation of the confirmation process.

Critics of the nomination have voiced concern about Kavanaugh flip-flopping on issues related to presidential powers and impeachment. They also fear he may be too conservative on issues like abortion, gay rights and gun control.

Gun control advocate Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter, Jaime Guttenberg died in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, said Kavanaugh snubbed him when he tried to introduce himself at the hearing.

"Just walked up to Judge Kavanaugh as morning session ended," Guttenberg said in a post on Twitter. "Put out my hand to introduce myself as Jaime Guttenberg's dad. He pulled his hand back, turned his back to me and walked away. I guess he did not want to deal with the reality of gun violence."

White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah characterized the interaction differently.

"As Judge Kavanaugh left for his lunch break, an unidentified individual approached him. Before the judge was able to shake his hand, security had intervened," he said.

Durbin said while Kavanaugh went after Clinton aggressively, he's seemed to soften his stance on the issue of presidential impeachment -- perhaps due to present calls for Trump to be impeached, on various grounds.

"At this moment in our nation's history with authoritarian forces threatening our democracy, with the campaign and administration of this president under federal criminal investigation we need a direct credible answer from you," Durbin said. "Is this president above the law? Equally important, can this president ignore the constitution in exercise of his authority?"

When the hearing resumed at 1:30 p.m., Chairman Charles Grassley said some Democrats have criticized Supreme Court justices for "being bought," and have also accused Republicans or the president for criticizing the judiciary, which he said is a "double standard."

Dozens of protesters interrupted Tuesday's hearing, leading Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to call the atmosphere "pandemonium".

Thirty women were arrested at the hearing. Women's March confirmed the arrests and claimed credit for the disturbance.

"Women are disrupting this hearing today because our lives are at risk," a statement from Rachel O'Leary Carmona, COO of Women's March, said. "Women will die if Kavanaugh is confirmed."

She warned senators that if they fail to stop Kavanaugh, "we will make you pay in November and in 2020."

Kavanaugh needs a simple majority -- 51 votes -- in the upper chamber to be confirmed, a rule changed by Senate Republicans last year during the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch.

Previously, 60 votes were needed. Kavanaugh's nomination will advance to the full chamber if it's approved by the judiciary committee.

"If confirmed to the court, I would be part of a Team of Nine, committed to deciding cases according to the Constitution and laws of the United States," Kavanaugh said in his opening statement. "I would always strive to be a team player on the Team of Nine."

The Washington, D.C., appellate judge is Trump's second nominee for the high court. His first, Gorsuch, replaced the late Antonin Scalia.

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U.S. - U.S. Daily News: Kavanaugh grilled in Senate as 'pandemonium' grips confirmation hearing
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