Simmering anger in the Democratic Party over the handling of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing has suddenly roared back to life, amid new details about sexual misconduct allegations against the justice. And for Sen. Kamala Harris, who built her national profile in the contentious hearing, it has provided a fresh opportunity for her to potentially rekindle the fire in her 2020 campaign.
No presidential contender benefited more from the fury in the base over Kavanaugh’s nomination than Harris, who used the hearing to combatively and directly question the future Supreme Court justice. Those moments proved to be a fundraising and digital juggernaut in 2018. And with the resurgence of the issue, her campaign is moving to take advantage of a similar level of intensity and financial support in order to boost her presidential campaign.
Kavanaugh’s hearings were an inflection point for multiple Democratic contenders, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey. All members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, they each questioned Kavanaugh, which provided them with a high-profile launching point for their soon-to-be-realized presidential campaigns.
Sensing an opening in the crowded primary, Harris became one of the first Democratic candidates to publicly call for Kavanaugh’s impeachment in the wake of recent allegations.
“Brett Kavanaugh lied to the U.S. Senate and most importantly to the American people,” she tweeted on Sunday morning, after the New York Times published excerpts of a new book containing details about the allegations. “He was put on the Court through a sham process and his place on the Court is an insult to the pursuit of truth and justice.”
On Tuesday, she also urged the House Judiciary Committee to conduct an investigation into Kavanaugh.
“We must protect the integrity of our justice system, and it is imperative that we pursue a legitimate search for truth for the benefit of the American people,” she wrote in a letter to committee chairman Jerry Nadler.
While Booker has joined Harris, tweeting that he stands “with survivors and countless other Americans in calling for impeachment proceedings to begin,” Klobuchar has been far more reserved, asking for more investigation but falling short of impeachment. On Monday, Klobuchar sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr requesting additional information about the investigation into Kavanaugh’s past.
The book excerpt published in the New York Times has come under fire after the paper issued an update to the piece clarifying that the alleged victim does not recall the incident involving Kavanaugh that was described by others. Through a court spokeswoman, Kavanaugh declined to comment.
Harris answered those critics, telling NPR that “the fact that someone does not remember the details of that incident doesn’t mean that there’s a lack of evidence if there are other witnesses who can establish that the fact occurred.”
Harris’ gambit is one that is not without risks. But for Harris, who rode on a wave of enthusiasm and fundraising spawned by her questioning of Kavanaugh during last year’s hearing, it may be worth it.
With her standing in the presidential race largely stagnant, this latest push serves as a reminder to Democrats of a major reason to back her candidacy and it could provide a much-needed boost in enthusiasm as the race enters the critical fall period – and ahead of the third quarter fundraising deadline.
“To the extent that she’s presenting herself as the person most capable of taking the fight to Trump, the Kavanaugh experience proved that she has the mettle to be aggressive and not back down to Republicans,” said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice, a left-leaning non-profit that aims to increase the number of Democratic appointees on the federal bench. “The person that rose to the occasion was Harris.”
And responding to the focus on Kavanaugh also links back to what Harris hears from voters. At events across the country, voters often tell Harris that they were drawn to her after questioning of the soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice.
“They remember the way that she stood up for Christine Blasey Ford and looked her in the eye and said,’You’re not on trial here,’” Ian Sams, Harris’s national press secretary, said. “This is one of the biggest fights that she had in the Senate.
“She’s standing up and saying this fight isn’t over,” Sams said.
Before she was officially a candidate for president, the Kavanaugh hearing catapulted Harris from freshman senator to a national name who was on the frontlines of her party’s effort to push back on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Her staff channeled the intense engagement online on this issue into scores of new supporters and donors that later helped power her run for president, a source familiar with the matter said.
Harris’ online anti-Kavanaugh petition drew more than 1 million signatures, the source confirmed, a massive level of engagement even before she announced her presidential candidacy. Harris also used the intensity of Democrats’ support for her activism on Kavanaugh to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for other candidates. On the day that then-Sen. Heidi Heitkamp announced that she would not support Kavanaugh’s nomination, Harris raised more than $450,000 in online donations for Heitkamp’s intensely contested Senate race. That figure was the largest amount Harris has ever raised for another candidate, the source said. (Heitkamp would lose to Republican Kevin Cramer.)
But as a presidential candidate, Harris’ campaign is somewhat hamstrung by Senate ethics rules which do not allow her political campaign to use footage of Harris recorded inside the US Capitol building during the course of her presidential run. Her aides have referenced these moments in social media posts, but have not been able to use the video itself to remind Democrats about Harris’ performance in the hearings.
Still, that hasn’t stopped the campaign from working to channel the same energy she experienced last year into one that can boost her presidential bid now.
After Harris sent her tweet calling for Kavanaugh to be impeached, her campaign blasted out another email asking for signatures on a petition. People who followed the link would then be pushed to donate to the campaign. The campaign sent out two such emails on Sunday.
Additionally, Harris has used her media appearances to push the issue.
“It was a sham,” Harris said of the Kavanaugh investigation in an interview on MSNBC on Monday night. “And yes, I’ve called for impeachment. I believe that is the clearest way for us to get an investigation of these allegations.”
And on Monday, her campaign sent out an explicit fundraising pitch to voters.
“From day one, Kamala has been a leader in the fight against Brett Kavanaugh’s illegitimate nomination to the Supreme Court and the Trump-McConnell right-wing takeover of our judicial system,” the emails said.
Sams said that Harris’ impeachment tweet is one of the most retweeted ever sent by the campaign.
Harris’ focus on the Kavanaugh allegations stand in stark contrast to Klobuchar’s more careful response to the recent revival of allegations.
Where Harris has called for Kavanaugh’s impeachment, Klobuchar – while not ruling it out – did not outright call for it.
“I strongly oppose him, based on his views on the executive power which will continue to haunt our country, as well as how he behaved, including the allegations that we are hearing more about today,” she told ABC on Sunday. “My concern here is that the process was a sham. I don’t think you can look at impeachment hearings without getting the documents … and the attorney general is shielding documents.”
Klobuchar also tweeted a photo of Christine Blasey Ford, one of Kavanaugh’s primary accusers, being sworn into her hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Let us never forget what courage looks like,” she wrote.
That is all, however, Klobuchar has said so far about the matter, despite the fact that – much like Harris – she hears about the Kavanaugh hearings often from voters, many of whom tell her that they learned about her from those TV moments.
Klobuchar’s campaign has not sent out any fundraising about Kavanaugh and her top aides were reticent to talk about it on Monday.
Compare that to Harris, who, in an interview with NPR on Monday, Harris disputed that her early position on Kavanaugh’s impeachment was political opportunism.
“You know, I thought about that before I publicly called for impeachment…This is an issue that I’ve been working on for over a year,” Harris said. “I feel very strongly about this case…And so I’m willing to take the hit. I agree that some would say politically motivated.”
While the Kavanaugh issue might have mobilized Democrats ahead of the 2018 election, Republicans argue it energized the conservative base as well, many of whom were infuriated by Kavanaugh’s treatment during the hearing. The issue, which took place just months before Election Day, further imperiled Democratic senators in red states, costing some of them – including Heitkamp – their jobs.
“Republicans like to point to how they think it played in North Dakota, but geographically there’s more places like Abigail Spanberger’s district [in Suburban Virginia] where Kavanaugh was a net negative for Republicans,” Fallon said. “It galvanizes both sides’ bases, but I think the swing voters in the 2020 election are going to be women in the suburbs.”