WASHINGTON – It happened in the middle of a contentious meeting taking place in a country whose political divide seems to grow deeper by the day.
As the room broke for lunch during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a man approached the judge from behind and was able to get his attention. Kavanaugh turned to look at the man, who later identified himself on social media as Fred Guttenberg, the father of Jaime Guttenberg, one of the 17 people killed in the Parkland school shooting in February, as he stuck out his right hand. He appeared to say, “My daughter was murdered at Parkland.”
Kavanaugh gave the man a look but declined to shake his hand. It is not clear whether he heard Guttenberg’s introduction, though the two were standing within a few feet of each other. Another man, who a White House spokesman later said was a security guard, had come to Guttenberg’s side by that point.
The interaction was captured on camera, and it quickly began to circulate on social media, an instant visual artifact trending as a stand-in for a politically complex and emotionally intense moment in U.S. history.
Some liberals saw Kavanaugh’s decision not to shake the man’s hand as a contemptuous act, a snub to the family of a victim of a heinous crime, and perhaps, by default, the causes of liberal America, not least of which remains the issue of gun control.
“Just walked up to Judge Kavanaugh as morning session ended,” Guttenberg tweeted. “Put out my hand to introduce myself as Jaime Guttenberg’s dad. He pulled his hand back, turned his back to me and walked away. I guess he did not want to deal with the reality of gun violence.”
For some conservatives, it was sign of liberal overreaction and hypocrisy. To them, Kavanaugh’s response was a sign of his confusion at the sight of a man whom security was trying to spirit away.
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Guttenberg, who had been introduced at the hearing earlier as a guest of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said he wanted to share his pain with Kavanaugh.
“I wanted to introduce myself, but I also wanted to simply say to him, listen, you have a beautiful family, you’re a father,” he said. “I want to know that you are going to look into my eye and understand the pain of a father.”