Calling it his “I am Spartacus moment,” Democratic Sen. Cory Booker defied Senate Judiciary Committee rules, posting to his Twitter account four emails “about racial profiling” designated “committee confidential” related to Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.
Booker declared his intent to “knowingly violate” the rules, considering it an act of “civil disobedience,” as the third day of confirmation hearings opened Thursday.
The January 2002 email, from Kavanaugh’s service in the Bush White House, centered on a discussion within the administration in the wake of the 9/11 attack by Islamic jihadists about how to handle the sensitive issue of whether or not “race” or national origin should be a factor in identifying national security threats.
Kavanaugh was arguing for doing all that is possible to make policies and procedures “race-neutral.” But in questioning about the email Wednesday, Booker found an opening in Kavanaugh describing himself in the email as “generally race neutral,” insisting it suggested there might instances in which he might be racially biased.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Booker that “running for president,” referring to the Democrat’s 2020 aspirations, is no excuse for “flouting” the rules, warning it could lead to losing his Senate seat.
Booker retorted: “Bring it.”
On Wednesday, 13 progressive groups, scolding Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for failing to block Kavanaugh, demanded that Democratic senators bypass Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Ill., and release the 141,000 pages of documents from Kavanaugh’s record that are not permitted for public release or discussion without being cleared by committee staff.
Most Senate Democrats already declared their opposition to Kavanaugh prior to the hearings, and the confirmation vote is expected to be strictly partisan. Republicans hold a 51-49 majority that was bolstered with the appointment this week of former Arizona Sen. John Kyle to fill the late Sen. John McCain’s seat.
Booker was supported by Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Mazie Hirano of Hawaii, who also released “committee confidential” emails.
“Count me in,” Durbin said. “I want to be part of this process.”
Cornyn said he hoped Booker “will reconsider his decision, because no senator deserve to sit on this committee or serve in the Senate, in my view, if they decide to be a law unto themselves and willingly flout the rules of the Senate.”
The committee’s ranking member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., contended the system the Republican majority was using to categorize documents as committee confidential was no transparent and unfair.
She said there is “no process for ‘committee confidential,'” and Democrats were not part of the decision-making regarding making certain documents public.
‘Drama’ all for nothing?
Later, it appeared that despite the conflict Thursday morning, Booker broke no rules, because the emails’ “committee confidential” status had been lifted before the hearing.
In an interview during a break in the hearing, Cornyn told reporters he learned from Lee that “it had already been worked out” that the emails were going to be released.
“So, all of this drama this morning apparently was for nothing,” he said. “It’s unfortunate.”
Bill Burck, the lawyer for President George W. Bush responsible for vetting Bush administration documents, later issued a statement confirming he and his staff resolved the issue with Booker’s office Wednesday night.
“We cleared the documents last night, shortly after Senator Booker’s staff asked us to,” Burck said.
“We were surprised to learn about Senator Booker’s histrionics this morning, because we had already told him he could use the documents publicly.
“In fact, we have said yes to every request by the senate democrats to make documents public.”
Bread and circuses
During his round of questioning, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., commented on Booker’s defiance.
“You just can’t do everything you want in a legislative body,” he said. “There are rules, and it’s frustrating to be told no on something you’re passionate about.”
Graham said the proceedings have become a “circus.”
“I want to defend circuses,” he quipped. “Circuses are entertaining and you can take your children to them.”