October 05, 2018

Wyden Floor Statement on Kavanaugh Nomination

As Prepared for Delivery

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today delivered the following floor statement on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the United States Supreme Court:

M. President, This deeply misguided vote to move forward on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination has taken the Senate one step closer to a moment that will cause enormous pain for millions and millions of Americans -- particularly women and survivors of assault.

Some might say that the Senate is rolling the clock back on women by confirming Kavanaugh. After seeing what’s happened to the women who’ve spoken up, and talking to women in Oregon, I question how much the clock ever ticked forward.

Indeed, this process has shone a spotlight on the double-standard that women across this country face, just to be believed.

On the other hand, Dr. Ford never wanted any of this. The way she has been treated by the Republicans in Congress and the president of the United States is inexcusable. In one of the most unpresidential speeches I have ever seen, the president belittled a survivor in front of a crowd of thousands.

Colleagues, Dr. Ford came to us as a citizen who, was doing her “civic duty” to provide the Senate with crucial information about a nominee. She called the front desk of her congressperson. She didn’t run to the press or sell a book. She volunteered to tell her story under oath. She recounted the details of her assault in eighteen minutes of testimony that will not soon be forgotten. It was heartbreaking to watch -- at times, excruciating. 

What did she get for her courage? She was put on trial by the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, who hired an actual prosecutor to grill her. That questioning was clearly designed to tar Dr. Ford as a political pawn. It attempted to delegitimize the trauma caused by her assault. It attempted to paint her as a liar.

It was stunning how little of the questioning Republicans subjected her to was focused on what Mr. Kavanaugh did on the night in question. It’s clear now the focus was on undermining Dr. Ford’s story and destroying her credibility.

But Dr. Ford’s credibility held up. In fact, I cannot imagine a more credible witness. Nor can I imagine how difficult it must have been for her to relive that experience and maintain her awesome composure. What she did took unknowable strength. Her testimony, delivered under prosecution, was unforgettable.

Dr. Ford, who is trained in psychology, was even forced to act as the expert witness at her own trial, diagnosing the lifelong effects of her own trauma. She explained to the committee how memories of traumatic events implant themselves on the brain.

At one point she described what she remembered most about the assault by Kavanaugh and Mark Judge. She answered, drawing on her training, “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.”

I believe Dr. Ford when she says she was assaulted in that room in 1982. I believe Dr. Ford when she says her attackers locked the door, a hand was pressed over her mouth, and she feared she might die. I believe her when she says she remembers them laughing.

For all the grueling prosecution the Republicans put Dr. Ford through, compare that to their treatment of Kavanaugh.

When it was Kavanaugh’s turn to deliver testimony, he was seething and raging in a manner completely unbecoming a federal judge. He behaved in a way that directly contradicted what he said a judge should be all about. In his own words, judges need “...to keep our emotions in check ... To be calm amidst the storm.” Kavanaugh failed his own test. He offered the most partisan testimony in my memory when he ranted about the Clintons and “what goes around comes around.”

Imagine if a female nominee defensively snapped at a male senator about his drinking habits. That would be ballgame, then and there.

When a few questions posed by the Republican prosecutor actually got to relevant questions, the majority side of the committee told her to take off.

For that to be the only hearing on these allegations is disgraceful. The committee should not have moved on to the vote.

The allegations brought forward demanded a robust investigation, and yet the Senate ended up light-years away from that.

What kind of investigation looking to settle serious matters doesn’t interview the accuser and the accused? Colleagues, this doesn’t pass the smell test.

This is not about tarnishing Kavanaugh’s reputation or digging up salacious details of his high school days. The accusations against Kavanaugh and the possibility of perjury -- both of which he denies -- relate directly to his binge drinking and sexual behavior as a young person. That’s why the FBI background check should have been a robust inquiry into those matters.

It’s clear now that didn’t happen. Why not? It's hard to see any explanation other than they handcuffed the investigation to predetermine the outcome.

Dr. Ford said the FBI didn’t talk to her. They didn’t look at the therapy notes she offered to turn over. They didn’t talk to Kavanaugh. They didn’t talk to the dozens of individuals Deborah Ramirez said could potentially corroborate her story. They closed the investigation at least a full day ahead of their arbitrary deadline, and it’s not clear why.

So based on that, colleagues, one matter ought to be clear. This investigation was NOT legitimate. It was the product of intense political meddling by the Trump administration. That means that if Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination is confirmed, there will be questions about his legitimacy looming for years to come.

Colleagues, I believe Dr. Ford. But if you don’t share my view, Kavanaugh’s uncontrolled behavior before the Senate ought to be disqualifying on its own.

From the time his nomination was announced, Kavanaugh portrayed himself as a trustworthy individual who had the kind of level-headed temperament Americans expect and deserve from members of the judiciary at all levels.

His appearances before the Judiciary Committee were a textbook case of partisanship.

In his afternoon testimony last week, he was disdainful and sarcastic when Democratic Senators questioned him. He responded to what he deemed unsubstantiated allegations by making truly unsubstantiated allegations of his own.

Without any evidence, he declared the credible accusations brought forward a, quote, “calculated and orchestrated political hit” by Democrats.

He shot pushed baseless, conspiratorial talk about how all these credible allegations were related to the Clintons.

In a tone dripping with menace, he said, “what goes around comes around.”

These are just a few reasons I called this a textbook case of partisanship. he proved his partisanship. How can anybody expect that he would give a fair hearing in a politically charged case?

So the conclusion based on that ought to be simple: You just don’t get to behave the way Kavanaugh did and be a Justice of the Supreme Court.

Finally, my concerns with Brett Kavanaugh go further than his temper tantrum.

The hard evidence shows he lied, repeatedly, and on a variety of subjects.

Hard evidence showed he lied about using stolen documents.

Hard evidence showed he lied about his involvement in the confirmation process of certain Bush nominees.

Just yesterday there was NEW evidence in scores of emails that Brett Kavanaugh lied about his involvement in government wiretapping programs.

Hard evidence shows he lied about the statements made by the other individuals who were present at the party where Dr. Ford was assaulted.

Hard evidence shows he lied about when he learned of the second set of allegations made against him.

He lied even about small stuff.

Hard evidence shows he lied about his drinking and blackouts.

And colleagues, when you can’t trust someone to tell the truth, they do not belong on the Supreme Court.

It’s important now to take a hard look at what’s happened to the court over the last few years. In 2016, Senate Republicans blocked a mainstream nominee -- one many of them had praised extensively on the record. They held a Supreme Court seat open for nearly a year until a Republican president picked someone more to their liking.

In 2018, the Trump White House interfered with the vetting of a second nominee, hiding key information from the Senate and the American people. The floor debate on his nomination will be cut off before all the questions about his sexual misconduct can be answered and before his statements can be examined for perjury.

These actions by the Republicans and the Trump White House are taking a sledgehammer to the public’s trust in the Supreme Court as an institution.

The Court used to have a healthy separation from the partisan battles that take place here in Congress. It no longer does. Colleagues we have a lot of heavy lifting to do to revive the vision of the Supreme Court held by the founding fathers.

M. President, I’ll close by going back to the question of whether anything has changed since 1991 and the tragedy of Professor Anita Hill.

When Professor Hill testified in 1991, she was dragged through the mud. It was said she suffered from “erotomania”. She was called a “scorned woman.” Perhaps you could say that it represents some measure of progress that Dr. Ford wasn’t slandered and insulted in quite the same way.

But I don’t know that any of that matters if Kavanaugh is confirmed. The language used during the debate might sound different, but the outcome will be the same.

The failure by my colleagues on the other side to step back, suspend the partisan warfare, and recognize the seriousness and legitimacy of this information is an historic disappointment.

This was never a smear campaign. It wasn’t a political hit job. Dr. Ford came forward out of a sense of civic duty. She knew the sacrifice she faced. And she wondered to herself if it would really make a difference. "Why suffer through annihilation if it won't matter," she asked.

Over and over again, Dr. Ford said told us that she only wanted to be helpful.

Senators ought to consider the dangerous signal being sent to survivors of assault and to young people across the country in this debate. Dr. Ford was not on trial, but nonetheless she was prosecuted by the majority party. She was smeared as a political pawn and a liar. Her accusations were dismissed by many almost immediately.

A few days ago, Donald Trump mocked her before an enraptured crowd of thousands. It was a cruel and unpresidential moment.

And if the mockery and dismissiveness aren’t bad enough, there’s the return of the sickening old notion that “boys will be boys.” That what happened in that bedroom was “roughhousing,” and that what Kavanaugh did happened too long ago to matter.

Survivors from coast to coast are asking, how are we going to be heard? How will we find justice? I fear many survivors will conclude that coming forward with your story will prove pointless, and there is very little likelihood of justice. Even if you are strong, composed, and courteous in a way that women are unfairly expected to be, it won’t help.

On the other hand, the signal to boys is this: Even you engage in violence against women and lie about your conduct the power structure is going to protect you.

The Senate has to be better than this. I hope senators will recognize that it’s time to take these attitudes toward women and sweep them out like the cobwebs from an abandoned stage and start over. It can begin by rejecting this nomination today.

I yield the floor.