WASHINGTON – Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar mounted an impassioned argument Friday against the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, blasting his judicial philosophy even as she suggested that sexual assault allegations against him have already changed the way Americans view such cases.
It was just after 6 p.m. in Washington when Klobuchar rose to deliver the 44-minute speech, likely capping her own pivotal role in a confirmation fight that riveted the nation and raised Klobuchar’s national profile.
“For many of us, we know this nomination process is not going to end as we hope,” Klobuchar said to Senate colleagues, who are expected to narrowly confirm Kavanaugh on Saturday. But his principal accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, “opened a window on sexual assault that is never going to be closed,” Klobuchar said. She and her fellow Minnesota Democrat, Sen. Tina Smith, plan to vote against Kavanaugh.
While Klobuchar finished her speech by talking about Ford’s allegations and the nation’s response, she spent most of her time on a detailed legal critique of Kavanaugh’s record and past writings. She warned that he has shown an overly expansive view of presidential power, and she cautioned that he has signaled a willingness to weaken consumer protections, worker safety rules and other laws and regulations that limit the power of corporations.
Klobuchar called Kavanaugh’s views of presidential power troubling at a time when many of the country’s democratic institutions are under stress, mentioning frequent attacks by President Donald Trump on the Department of Justice, the FBI and other federal agencies.
“At this time in our history, we need a justice who is independent and will serve as a check on other branches of government,” Klobuchar said. “That’s what our Founding Fathers set up.”
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Klobuchar found herself thrust into the Washington spotlight as the contentious Kavanaugh fight came to a head. Already frequently included on national lists of possible 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, Klobuchar last weekend achieved an notable milestone for politicians trying to build a national profile: she was impersonated in the opening skit of “Saturday Night Live.”
As Kavanaugh faced the Judiciary Committee at the end of last week, an exchange Klobuchar had with Kavanaugh about heavy drinking wound up as a pivotal moment. When she asked if he had ever drank so much he didn’t remember what happened — easing into a sensitive topic by acknowledging her father’s own past with alcoholism — he responded by asking the same of her. Kavanaugh later apologized.
“She handled [it] with incredible poise but also toughness,” said Jeff Blodgett, a longtime DFL operative who has advised Klobuchar. “She didn’t get rattled by his comeback — she pushed him and it was a remarkable moment.”
Her performance during the Kavanaugh controversy “probably increased the support among core Democratic voters, and that’s a good thing,” Blodgett added. “If that can be replicated nationally, then she could have some ability to compete [in 2020], though I think her head is mostly in Minnesota when it comes to politics at the moment.”
Klobuchar is up for re-election in November; polls show her with a formidable lead over state Rep. Jim Newberger, her Republican opponent. On Friday, he accused Klobuchar of obstructing the Supreme Court nomination process and displaying unprofessional behavior during the hearings. He said in a statement that Minnesotans want her to “stop acting in such a hyper partisan fashion.”
Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, noted that Klobuchar’s exchanges with Kavanaugh are “something being talked about by a lot of people,” earning her a new level of attention.
“It takes something to get people’s attention,” Ornstein said.
In her speech Friday, Klobuchar quoted Bob Dylan and James Madison, cited old court precedents and her time as Hennepin County attorney, evoked the Magna Carta, and voiced concern about what Kavanaugh would do to protect campaign finance restrictions and independent federal agencies. She talked about her family, recalling her grandfather’s work in an underground mine in northern Minnesota as she expressed concern that Kavanaugh on the high court would vote to undo workplace safety rules.
“All my grandpa wanted … was to send my dad and his brother to college,” Klobuchar said. Her dad became first in the family to graduate, she said, saying that worker protections allowed him to spend a career in a mining cage and save the money to make it happen.
“Americans rely on these protections to keep them healthy and safe, and we can’t have a Supreme Court justice who would throw those protections in doubt,” she said.