Some Democrats auditioned for a 2020 presidential bid while others tried to shore up support from the party’s liberal base ahead of November’s elections as they competed Tuesday to show the most resistance to President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, made it fewer than a dozen words into his opening statement before the first salvo came from Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat eyeing a run for the White House.
“We cannot possibly move forward,” she said, complaining that her demands for documents were stymied and she didn’t feel ready to face the nominee, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, another 2020 hopeful, was close behind, also complaining about documents he said are being bottled up at the National Archives, preventing senators from getting a full picture of Judge Kavanaugh’s work in the Bush White House before he became a judge.
“I’m trying to find out what the jeopardy would be if we just waited for the documents,” he demanded.
Republicans kept track, counting nearly four dozen interruptions from Democrats in the first hour of Tuesday’s hearing as they desperately sought to derail the nomination — or at least to prove to their base that they left no stone unturned in a failing effort.
“We have folks who want to run for president, who want their moment in the spotlight, who want that coveted TV clip,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican. “Frankly, I wish we could drop all the nonsense.”
Even those who aren’t eyeing the White House are under pressure to preen, Mr. Hatch said.
The level of pressure was underscored by anti-Trump protesters who filled the public seats in the hearing room Tuesday, some of them literally shrieking in displeasure at the prospect of a Justice Kavanaugh.
The U.S. Capitol Police arrested 70 people in connections to the protests.
Among those arrested was actress Piper Perabo, who tweeted that she was “proud” to have been ousted from the hearing room for her political beliefs.
Both Democrats and Republicans complained about the interruptions, with Mr. Hatch particularly incensed.
“I don’t know that the committee should have to put up with this type of insolence that’s going on in this room today,” he said. “These people are so out of line, they shouldn’t even be allowed in the doggone room.”
Liberal pressure groups have demanded Democrats find a way to scuttle Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, despite the party’s minority status. A decade ago they could have, with the power of the filibuster, but Democrats’ move to trigger the nuclear option in 2013 and defang the filibuster is now a hindrance.
Democratic leaders instead must swing enough Republicans to defeat Judge Kavanaugh or delay into next year, when they hope to have gained control of the Senate and have the power to stop a Trump pick.
In the opening moments of Tuesday’s hearing, Democrats tried to deploy their delay strategy, complaining that they hadn’t had enough time to review the nearly 500,000 pages of documents that have been released and saying they’re still looking for millions of pages of other documents that haven’t been released.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, attempted to force a vote to adjourn the meeting. He was ruled out of order by Mr. Grassley.
Sen. Richard Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the chamber, followed up by asking Judge Kavanaugh to intervene and demand a delay of his own confirmation until more documents can be released.
Republicans said the interruptions were planned over the weekend during a conference call among Democrats.
Mr. Durbin acknowledged the call, saying they were working to force a better process.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee who is facing a battle with a fellow Democrat to keep her seat this year, went a more substantive route, highlighting concerns she had with Judge Kavanaugh on immigration, abortion and gun control.
She said his dissent in a case involving an illegal immigrant minor seeking an abortion during his time as a judge suggests he would overturn the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade case establishing a national right to abortion.
She also took issue with Judge Kavanaugh’s opinion in a gun-rights case in which he would have ruled illegal a District of Columbia ban on some semi-automatic rifles.
Interest in the Kavanaugh hearings is off the charts among liberal activist groups, many of which sent out fundraising or campaign emails Tuesday trying to rally their supporters.
The Secular Coalition of America, the pro-LGBT Family Equality Council and Emily’s List, a pro-abortion rights organization, were among those calling for voters to contact senators and demand they reject Judge Kavanaugh.
Mr. Booker and Ms. Harris also used the opportunity to blast out campaign emails, asking voters to sign a petition against Judge Kavanaugh.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who ran for president in 2016 but flamed out in the GOP primary, said he understood Democrats’ motivation in ganging up on Judge Kavanaugh. He said he voted for the confirmations of President Barack Obama’s two picks, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
“I would suggest you think long and hard if you have a political ambition of voting for this guy because it will not play well on your side,” he told Democrats.
But he said they shouldn’t be surprised when Judge Kavanaugh wins confirmation: “To my friends on the other side, you can’t lose the election and pick judges. If you want to pick judges you better win.”