The eyes of the country were on a small hearing room on Capitol Hill Thursday where Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were both teenagers, testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The testimony was gripping – and the whole hearing, featuring both Ford and Kavanaugh, is worth watching to get a full picture, but several moments and themes stood out.
Below you’ll find a set of takeaways that I thought were worth taking note of as I watched the hearing live.
1. Ford is credible
This strikes me as the first question that anyone watching the hearing had to wonder. Before 11 days ago, no one outside of her family, social and professional circles knew who she was. Now everyone knows who she is – but very few people had seen anything other than a single picture of her wearing sunglasses. We hadn’t heard her voice, seen her mannerisms. And most importantly, we hadn’t seen her tell the story of the night in 1982, in which she alleges that assault took place.
Within a few minutes of her reading from her opening statement, it became clear that Ford was decidedly credible. She struck me as a normal person thrust into an impossible situation. Someone who was doing what she believed to be the right thing. Her voice shook. Her breath was short. She was clearly fighting her emotions as she offered a specific and at times devastating recounting of the episode at the center of her claim. She was sympathetic when discussing how her life had been horribly jolted by her decision to come forward with her allegations. (She told of having to stay in secure locales, at times separated from her family, and with security guards always around her.)
What I kept asking myself watching Ford’s testimony (and questioning) is, why would she be doing all of this if she didn’t believe she was telling the truth? Why subject yourself to all of this? What would her motive be for not telling the truth – as she remembers it – about what happened that night in the early 1980s? Critics would argue that her motivations are political – but I just don’t buy it. Not in watching Ford’s testimony.
2. The manner of questioning is, um, not great
It was always going to be a somewhat odd hearing, given that the 11 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee ceded their right to question Ford to an independent prosecutor named Rachel Mitchell. (Democrats did not do the same.) But the reality has been very jarring. For five minutes, Mitchell goes through a meticulous checking of the story that Ford has told through a variety of mediums. Then, suddenly, Mitchell is interrupted by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who tells her that the allotted five minutes is up. A Democratic senator then takes over, offering – at least to this point – undiluted praise for Ford’s bravery.
For a viewer – including the senators sitting on the Judiciary Committee – it makes the entire proceeding a bit difficult to follow. For Republicans, who were clearly concerned about how it might look to have 11 men asking question of a woman alleging sexual assault, the awkwardness of the back-and-forth questioning is something they are willing to deal with given the alternative.
3. Grassley’s tin ear
The reason Republicans – led by Grassley – chose to bring in Mitchell rather than to ask their own question of Ford is because they didn’t want to make themselves the story Thursday. But starting with his opening statement, the Iowa Republican is not doing very well in that regard.
Grassley’s opening statement sounded like a closing argument in which he seemed to focus almost exclusively on how incredibly gracious he had been in trying to ensure that Ford had a chance to tell her story. He didn’t help himself when he interrupted ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to make clear that he had planned to introduce Ford’s curriculum vitae even as Feinstein was doing so.
On several other occasions within the first two hours of the hearing, Grassley repeatedly interjected himself to make clear how far his committee had bent over backward to help Ford get to this day. I understand his desire to defend his own behavior and conduct – and that of the Senate Republican majority. But it rang as tone-deaf to me watching.
And maybe he’s figuring that out. During the first break in the hearing, Grassley told reporters: “I don’t think I can make any comments at all today, maybe it’s something I ought to sleep on. This is pretty important. We ought to be thinking about it a lot and not making hasty comments.”