The Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh turned into a fight over Senate rules Thursday morning, with arguments about the release of confidential documents and threats of the possible expulsion of some members.
“Bring it,” said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in response to a threat made Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, that he could be expelled from the Senate if he released documents marked “confidential” to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Then apply the rule and bring the charges.”
Booker said that he was “knowingly violating the rules” of the Senate and releasing documents that were only made available to senators this week, just before the hearings started. Booker said he would be releasing a document related to Kavanaugh and racial profiling that contained no personal information and was not a national security threat.
Booker’s office later released the document (read it here) in which Kavanaugh was critical of some Department of Transportation affirmative action policies.
“The fundamental problem in this case is that these DOT regulations use a lot of legalisms and disguises to mask what is a naked racial set-aside,” wrote Kavanaugh in the 2003 email.
Cornyn said Booker’s possible 2020 presidential aspirations were his motivation for releasing the document, adding that no senator deserved to sit on the committee if they wanted to be a law unto themselves.
The debate centered on documents that were marked confidential by Bill Burck, a former George W. Bush White House staffer and Kavanaugh deputy. Democrats have stated that they didn’t have time to go over the documents and that there is a conflict in interest by Burke. Some of the documents were leaked to the New York Times on Wednesday evening, including one 2003 email in which Kavanaugh questioned whether Roe v. Wade was settled law of the land. Women’s health advocates have said that Kavanaugh would overturn the ruling and criminalize abortions.
A number of Democrats on the committee then stepped forward to say they would also share any consequences suffered by Booker for releasing Kavanaugh’s emails.
“If there’s going to be some retribution against the senator from New Jersey, count me in,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.
“Count me in, too,” said Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, who said she was releasing a document to the press and would “defy anyone reading this document that to be able to conclude that this should be deemed confidential in any way, shape or form.”
Hirono later released the documents, about programs for Native Hawaiians, on Twitter.
“All of us are ready to face that rule on the bogus designation of committee confidential,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “Just because there’s a Senate rule doesn’t mean it can be misapplied, misconstrued or misused. And I think even the threat raised by one of my colleagues here is misfortunate — and that is a kind way of putting it, will all due respect.”
Cornyn then cited Senate Rule 29.5, which says that any senator who discloses confidential or secret Senate business could suffer expulsion from the body. At that point, Booker repeatedly told Cornyn to “bring it” and that he would accept the consequences of his actions. Burck told the Washington Post Thursday afternoon that he had cleared Booker’s documents on Wednesday night, adding “We were surprised to learn about Senator Booker’s histrionics this morning because we had already told him he could use the documents publicly.”
The last time a senator was expelled was 1862.