Keep Your Eye on Collins & Flake

All of the clips of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings from 1991 brought back a repressed memory, namely, the role of Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Specter, who later became a Democrat in a desperate bid for self-preservation (conservatives I know in Pennsylvania used to call him “Arlen Sphincter”), voted against Robert Bork in 1987, and would seem by that fact to have been in play as a possible “No” vote on Thomas. Yet when the Anita Hill allegations came to light, Specter was one of the toughest questioners of Hill when she appeared, and the subsequently voted to confirm Thomas. His sharp questioning of Hill was one of the episodes that led his nickname as “Snarlin’ Arlen.”

My hunch at the time was that Specter was offended by the unfair, late-hit aspect of the Hill charges against Thomas. I think the same dynamic is unfolding right now. Sen. Collins is clearly perturbed and offended by the way the allegation against Judge Kavanaugh came to light, and Sen. Jeff Flake (also the wavering Bob Corker) have both said that if Dr. Hill doesn’t appear next Monday, the Senate should proceed to a vote. The hint seems to be that all of them, in the absence of any additional credible information, are ready to vote for Kavanaugh. Keep your eye on them through the weekend. Their public statements will signal how it is going to go. (I expect there will be yet another last minute Democratic attempt to produce new “information” late in the week or over the weekend to screw up Monday’s scheduled hearing—a new “witness,” or some fresh “rumors” of rumors.” So it’s not over until it’s over.)

Of course, a large part of the motivation for this stunt is more about energizing the Democratic base in the upcoming midterm election, and also providing their vulnerable red state Senators with a plausible rationale for a “No” vote. The conventional wisdom is that the matter presents a vote-losing dilemma for Republicans, but I am not sure that the opposite isn’t true. I suspect this stunt will motivate a lot of complacent Republicans to turn out in November, with this fresh reminder of what Democrats are like.

Final prediction: If the hearing goes off as scheduled on Monday, Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley won’t even get to the verb in his first sentence before he is interrupted by a Democrat demand to adjourn the hearing. Care to start a pool on whether it will be Booker, Harris, or Blumenthal going first?

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