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Evaluating the Supreme Court Standoff -- Sunday Political Brunch - September 30, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – I was not there. You were not there. I say this because of the explosion of “experts” (from both sides) on social media this week regarding the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who is accusing him of sexual assault. Like many of you, I found the hearing spell-binding and I could not turn away. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Dr. Ford’s Testimony” – I found her credible, passionate, certain, heartfelt, emotional, strong, compelling and believable.

“Judge Kavanaugh’s Testimony” – I found him credible, passionate, certain, angry, emotional, strong, compelling and believable.

“Why I Call it a Standoff” – This is not a legal proceeding – as much as many people on both sides would like to suggest it is. There is no legal standard to judge here such as, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” or “based on a preponderance of evidence.” In the end Senators could be influenced by everything from partisan politics, to belief in the shape of the court over the next generation. Or, Senators can simply use the standard of, “my gut tells me to vote this way” based on the testimony they heard. They don’t have to base it on any evidence, or lack thereof.

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” – This hearing had all kinds of moments: some riveting; some sad; some even funny; and, some downright weird. It just goes to show that no matter how much people rehearse and plan their testimony or speeches, spontaneous moments can erupt. Let me address a few.

“No Laughing Matter” – I thought it fascinating when Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) asked Christine Ford what was the most memorable, searing part of her alleged sexual assault. She said, "The laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two," Ford said, her voice cracking. "And their having fun at my expense." A lot of people may have been expecting a description of a sexual nature, but her answer was about as raw and candid as it gets.

“I Like Beer” – If there was any levity in the hearing – and trust me – I know that allegations of sexual misconduct are no laughing matter, still, one exchange sparked lots of funny comments and memes on the internet when Judge Kavanaugh was asked about his teenage drinking. "I drank beer with my friends, almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers, sometimes others did." He added: "I liked beer, I still like beer, but I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out and I never sexually assaulted anyone." It was funny, because clearly he probably went over the top describing about how much he liked beer. Expect a Saturday Night Live skit soon. But it was spontaneous and candid and likely unrehearsed. It was a raw moment in a hearing that had relatively few.

“On the Other Hand” – One of Judge Kavanaugh’s responses about drinking drew a lot of jeers. He had an odd exchange with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) when she questioned: “So you’re saying there’s never been a case where you drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened the night before or part of what happened?” Kavanaugh shot back, “You’re talking about blackout. I don’t know. Have you?” After a short recess Kavanaugh apologized to Klobuchar. “I’m sorry I did that,” he said. “This is a tough process.” Klobuchar responded: “When you have a parent [her father] who’s an alcoholic, you’re pretty careful about drinking.”

“Things Go Better with Coke! – Maybe Not!” – During part of her testimony today, Dr. Ford had a large bottle of Coca-Cola on the table, clearly visible on TV. Those of us old enough to remember Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings in 1991, will remember the testimony of Professor Anita Hill who worked with Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In alleging a hostile, sexually charged work environment, Hill recounted an incident: "Thomas was drinking a Coke in his office, he got up from the table at which we were working, went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, 'Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?'" The people at Coca-Cola HQ must be shaking their heads again, after two unintended product placements on national television that were not the most flattering.

“Vote Watch” – Judge Brett Kavanaugh will likely be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but does he have the majority of votes in the full Senate? Here are the undecided votes to watch: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine); Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia); Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota); and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana). Previously undecided Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) confirms he will vote 'yes' on Judge Kavanaugh.

“My Advice” – 2018 is much different than 1982. Back in the late 1970s I worked in law enforcement and had the opportunity to assist in some sexual assault investigations. There were no DNA tests back then; no support groups; no campus or community rape-crisis centers; and, few women in law enforcement. The well-intended, but misguided notion in those days was, “Let’s not put the victim through additional trauma by compelling her to testify.” That was wrong. Today we have all these assets to help. Women and men alike should report sexual assaults when they happen, so that critical physical evidence and testimony can be gathered. Time is of the essence. Reach out to friends, family, clergy, and others for support. It’s there.

Please share your thoughts and opinions by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, the five surrounding states and the District of Columbia.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: NR/C-SPAN

The Kavanaugh Court Complexities -- Sunday Political Brunch September 23, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – I have no idea what happened with Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford 36 years ago, but I can certainly look at my “crystal ball” to assess the implications today. As I often say, as a political analyst I try to assess what may happen based on history, public mood, facts (or lack of facts), and then come to my conclusion. Yes, it’s a guess, but I hope after over forty years of covering politics it’s an educated guess. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Who’s in the Bullpen?” – Look, in baseball season when the team’s starting pitcher is faltering, the manager looks to the bullpen for relief. Make no mistake, the White House and GOP Senators are already vetting other candidates if Kavanaugh fails. Why? In politics – as in most endeavors – you need a backup plan. Let’s just say Kavanaugh can’t get 51 votes and Republicans then lose the Senate in the November elections. They still hold power until January 3, enough time to confirm another conservative. Yes, they lose the Senate majority for maybe two or four years, but they could control the Supreme Court for the next 25 years. That’s huge!

“The Modern Math” – Right now Republicans hold a 51 to 49 seat majority in the U.S. Senate. If one member of the caucus bolts, say Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) or Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the GOP could still confirm Kavanaugh with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote. But if Republicans lose two votes and no Democrats vote yes, Kavanaugh is gone. As for the House (which does not have a Supreme Court vote), the backlash against how Republicans handle this, could affect voters in marginal districts. Right now, the GOP holds 236 House seats, to 193 for Democrats, with six vacancies. If Republicans have a net loss of 19 votes, they cede power to Democrats in the House.

“Clarence Thomas v. Anita Hill, 1991” – I’ve heard all week, from people on both sides, that this is the same the as the confirmation showdown in 1991 between Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and law professor Anita Hill. That was a controversial, inflamed national debate, but it’s not the same as today. Yes, both bear that “he said; she said” storyline with no corroboration, but the media and societal climates have changed a lot. There was no Facebook or Twitter in 1991, stirring public opinion. And there was nothing akin to the #MeToo solidarity movement of today. The cases may have similarities, but the stage is way different.

“What Else Has Changed?” – The public discussion of sexual impropriety in the workplace - or in any societal setting – just began to emerge in the Thomas-Hill era. Conversely, we are just coming off a year in which such notable Americans as Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Les Moonves, Roger Ailes, and countless others have had their careers felled by accusations and admissions of sexual misconduct. What started as a few raindrops in the Thomas case, is now a full-fledged Category-5 Hurricane today. I’m not saying Kavanaugh is guilty – how on Earth would I know? But, the jury pool is much different in 2018 than in 1991.

“It’s a Different Congress, Too!” – In 1991, just two women served in the U.S. Senate. Both were white, with one a Democrat, and the other a Republican. Today 23 women serve in the Senate and four are women of color. By party, 17 are Democrats and six are Republican. I’m not saying women will always side with women, because that’s clearly not the case. What I am saying, is the make-up of the body (and the way we treat each other) has shifted dramatically.

“No More ‘House Keeping!’” – The U.S. House – while not having a role in the confirmation process – is certainly reflective of the changing political landscape and public mood. In 1991 just 31 women served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Today there are 84. In both chambers there has been steady growth in female membership since the 1992 election, just one year after the Thomas-Hill dispute. Now that’s not the sole reason, but it’s certainly been a factor. Women’s economic and educational gains are probably the biggest reason for their rise in political clout, but the concerns over sexual mistreatment cannot be discounted.

“The Tone” – Almost to a person, most Republican Senators and President Trump have said that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford should be heard from, that she should be allowed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee; and in fairness, Judge Kavanaugh should be able to tell his side of the story. Originally the idea was to have them appear Monday - but Ford balked – though she may be willing to come later in the week. She also asked the FBI to investigate her claim, which it declined since that’s not what the FBI does. Her team may be inadvertently putting her in a tough spot. In a courtroom, for example – and I know confirmation is not a legal case – but the combatants don’t get to choose the dates, who investigates, and what questions get asked. If her requests make the problem too burdensome to Senators, they may just go ahead and vote without her. That could backfire against them. So, we may see some accommodation on both sides.

“Two Alternative Hypotheses” – Women vote in greater numbers than men. In 2016, 52 percent of American who cast ballots were women, compared to 48 percent men. Furthermore, 54 percent of those women voted for Hillary Clinton, to 41 percent for Donald Trump – the biggest gender gap recorded since 1972. That would seem to say women have the upper hand in politics, and perhaps in the Kavanaugh debate. But remember, in 2016, the bottom line was that Donald Trump won the Electoral College and therefore the presidency. I’m not by any stretch saying that Kavanaugh’s fate will be decided by gender politics. Quite conversely – many senators, and the public – may say these accusations are from too long ago, with faded memories, and no corroboration. In a vacuum of evidence, Kavanaugh may just get confirmed, and we’ll see how the political fallout shakes out on November 6th.

Share your opinions at: www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar media TV stations serving West Virginia and surrounding states.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC --- Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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