WASHINGTON — "This is what democracy looks like!" protesters shouted outside the Supreme Court, voicing their opposition to Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the high court but somehow speaking for everyone on every side on a day of passion, chaos and consequence.
Democracy on Thursday looked like:
- Senators scurrying AWAY from the cameras, not their natural state.
- Sexual assault victims pouring out their stories in the halls of the Capitol and from the steps of the high court across the street.
- "Confirm Brett!" cries from members of the "Women for Kavanaugh" outside the office of Sen. Jeff Flake, one of three Republicans and perhaps one wavering Democrat who will determine whether the judge accused of sexual misconduct will become a justice.
- "We believe Christine Ford" banners, unfurled at a Senate office building where police began arresting hundreds of protesters staging a sit-in.
- Partisan characterizations of the FBI report on the accusations against Kavanaugh, so at odds that the casual observer could not hope to divine the truth from listening to them.
- "Whitewash," steamed Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. "A check-the-box scam."
- Countered Maine's Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a crucial unknown vote, "It appears to be a very thorough investigation."
Walking to the Capitol, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein was approached by a woman who thanked her for her work on the investigation and told the senator she's a multiple rape survivor. Feinstein shook her hand, then put her own hand on the woman's cheek. The woman started crying, and simply said, "Thank you, thank you."
A round of Senate voting is expected Friday, with the final vote likely Saturday.
It had been a smooth process by Washington's bumpy standards until Christine Blasey Ford, then other women, came forward with their accusations, setting up an epic hearing last week centered on Ford's allegation and Kavanaugh's blistering denials. Flake, a retiring senator and frequent thorn in the side of President Donald Trump, achieved a delay long enough for the FBI to reopen its background investigation of the nominee.
The pitched struggle over Kavanaugh reflects the stakes. At 53, he is likely to serve on the court for decades if confirmed. In the short term he could provide the decisive fifth vote for a conservative majority on the nine-member court.
On the hot seat, some senators have been using police escorts in recent days to shield them from protesters and the media. The stepped-up police presence comes as senators — especially Republicans — have expressed unease over protesters who have confronted them at their Senate offices, restaurants, airports and even their homes. Personal information about some lawmakers also has been released online.
On Thursday, with Collins praising the reach of the brief FBI investigation and Flake indicating he had seen nothing incriminating in the results, the pro-Kavanaugh forces appeared closer to the prize.
But anger and frustration knew no party on the eve of expected voting.
"This is almost rock bottom," said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Republican who presided over last week's hearing as chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
It was a day when you could not tell who was winning by watching them.