September 3, 2018
After a marathon month of meetings with senators and intensive prep sessions, Judge Brett Kavanaugh is ready for his close-up. President Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court will begin testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. It’s one of the last hurdles before the Senate votes on his nomination. Kavanaugh is expected to face tough questions, especially from Senate Democrats, on issues like presidential power and abortion.
Here to help us preview the hearings is Ron Bonjean. He’s a Republican strategist. He led the communications team during the Neil Gorsuch confirmation effort. Welcome to the program.
RON BONJEAN: Thanks. It’s so great to be here.
CORNISH: So at this point I understand prep for Supreme Court nominees involves mock hearings that they sit through. What does that process typically look like?
BONJEAN: Yes, that’s absolutely right. Kavanaugh has been at the Old Executive Office Building where they’ve literally set up a hearing room to look exactly like it would look like in the Senate. And what they do is they have either his former clerks, White House counsel, former senators or even current senators attend and ask him the hardest questions.
CORNISH: Are people critiquing his answers in this process?
BONJEAN: So that’s a very good question. The first goal is to get his stamina going because, you know, it’s sort of like lifting weights. Imagine sitting there all day long being pounded with questions from senators. You know, if you didn’t practice, it may not work out so well.
CORNISH: So you don’t end up doing a bunch of eye rolling and things like that.
BONJEAN: Right. And then of course there has been protesting – fake protesting, so to speak – to desensitize him for those kind of distractions because those moments can get caught on camera, and they could define the hearing itself.
CORNISH: There’s been a lot of debate over documents from Brett Kavanaugh’s time at the White House under President George W. Bush. Now, White House says it’s withholding some records from that time. They cite executive privilege. Here’s a taste of the reaction from Democrats. Senator Amy Klobuchar said this to NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “MEET THE PRESS”)
AMY KLOBUCHAR: You have a nominee with excellent credentials, with his family behind him. You have the cameras there. You have the senators questioning. But this isn’t normal. We are not able to see a hundred thousand documents because the administration has said we can’t see them.
CORNISH: Ron Bonjean, do you agree that this is not normal?
BONJEAN: Well, first of all, I’m glad that Senator Klobuchar called the judge qualified. However, I would disagree with her because there are literally thousands of documents available to review. The judge has presided over 300 cases, you know, on the D.C. Circuit Court. And to claim that they’re not able to understand where Kavanaugh’s coming from is completely absurd.
CORNISH: Will you feel the same way when the shoe is on the other foot – right? – when there’s going to be a nominee and Republicans are going to say, look; we’re looking for a specific set of documents, and you may have a White House that says, nope, executive privilege?
BONJEAN: Well, see; and that’s the challenge here, is that the Supreme Court nomination process, confirmation process has become a very partisan process much like a political campaign. Yes, of course there will be Republicans that would complain when the shoe is on the other foot. But at some point you do have to stop somewhere and draw the line. And if the White House has done so, there’s not much we can do about it anyway.
CORNISH: Democrats are essentially arguing that there is more in the documents that they’re looking for that could reveal his thinking on issues from torture, same-sex marriage, even executive privilege, which is something people are talking about now with the current Mueller investigation. Are they wrong to try and push for that?
BONJEAN: I think their goal is to try to delay this whole process. They know that the votes are there to confirm Kavanaugh. And so they’ve concocted a strategy to try to delay the game. They have the confirmation hearings to ask him all of these questions.
CORNISH: How much of this has to do with Merrick Garland? Are they right to make the argument that…
BONJEAN: A lot.
CORNISH: …Once upon a time they were told, look; we should wait until the voters have their say and an election is a referendum? Why shouldn’t they have that referendum through the midterms?
BONJEAN: There are a lot of Democrats who are very sore at what happened with Merrick Garland. Yes, we are in the midterms at this point, but the decision’s been made to move forward. It’s, you know, unfortunate that partisanship has really taken over. But we have a nominee that is about to go through the hearing process, and it’s a little late for those arguments.
CORNISH: Is there a way to depoliticize the Supreme Court nomination process, or is there essentially no turning back from the partisan way things are done now?
BONJEAN: It’s – looks very difficult right now, right? You have both sides pouring a lot of money into ads. And you have senators posturing for an increasingly I would say hyperventilating media.
CORNISH: Sounds like you’re saying it’s a lost cause frankly.
BONJEAN: (Laughter) Yeah, right now I think it’s – it would be very difficult to take the campaign out of it.
CORNISH: That’s Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
BONJEAN: Thank you so much.Listen to the full interview on NPR