The members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee are mostly white, mostly male, and by a majority of 11 to 10, mostly Republican.
They have before them a critical vote on the candidacy of a man who would stand in judgment over the most important court cases in our land.
But his alleged actions as a teenager on a summer night 36 years ago suddenly put Brett Kavanaugh’s moral fitness for the post in question.
Amid the political firestorm surrounding attempted sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh by a high school acquaintance — and how the committee should react — an unlikely voice of reason has emerged: Kellyanne Conway.
The political consultant and White House counselor appeared on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” Monday morning to express support for Kavanaugh, reminding viewers that Kavanaugh’s vetting for a seat on the Supreme Court has led her to think of him as a “man of character and integrity.”
Conway, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump whose defenses of her boss’s actions have sometimes verged on the bizarre, naturally stood by Kavanaugh. He categorically denies the allegations by Christine Blasey Ford — as he has done since they first emerged, anonymously, last week — and the White House continues to support him.
However, Conway also sent a clear message to the Senate and the nation on Monday: Ford has a right to be heard.
“She should not be insulted. She should not be ignored. She should testify under oath, and she should do it on Capitol Hill,” Conway said.
It’s a shame that it should seem remarkable for someone from this administration to come out in support of common decency and due process, but that is the state of affairs in this country. The bar is just that low.
The problem is, I don’t know what happened in a suburban Maryland bedroom one night in 1982, and neither do you. I am not accepting either party’s version at face value yet, and neither should you. We need to hear more.
I’m also not naive. The timing of Ford’s allegations is troubling, to say the least.
A registered Democrat, Ford finally decided to tell her story to two Democratic congresswomen — one of them being Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s ranking Democrat — and the Washington Post, as Kavanaugh’s seemingly unassailable path toward the high court became clear.
That doesn’t mean she is lying, but it is hard not to ask “why now?”
Still, if the #metoo movement and grand jury revelations about decades of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy have taught us anything, it is that we are only just beginning to understand the sheer extent of predatory behavior and cover-ups by powerful men, and that there are many legitimate reasons why victims wait decades to come forward.
Pain, shame and fear of public ridicule are very real, and Ford told the Post she was initially hesitant to go public with her allegations because doing so would likely create havoc in her life and not prevent Kavanaugh’s expected nomination anyway.
And yet, despite Feinstein’s apparent promise to respect Ford’s anonymity, word of the California professor’s letter to her senator got leaked. What we ended up with last week was an initial story that pitted Kavanaugh against an unnamed accuser.
That is not fair in the least. Our court system is designed to give the accused the right to face their accusers, and that should include political nominees in a situation like the one Kavanaugh now faces.
With pressure mounting and reporters following her around, Ford formally told her story to the Washington Post, which ran it on Sunday.
Kavanaugh and Ford both indicated Monday they would be willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And now, perhaps, Ford’s allegations will be treated with candor and this process can be handled with respect and the transparency that all involved, including the American people, deserve.
Those who remember how grossly the Senate handled Anita Hill’s sexual harassment accusations against nominee (now Justice) Clarence Thomas in 1991 can only wonder whether this group of senators will behave with more dignity and justice.
Top Republicans on the committee were suggesting Monday that the testimony be done by telephone, in order to protect confidentiality and proceed in a respectful manner.
Not surprisingly, all 10 Democrats on committee were looking ahead to the next step, saying they want a scheduled Thursday vote on the nominee postponed to give the FBI more time to investigate.
Whatever happens, Conway’s response was incredibly savvy.
It attempted to undo some of the damage done this weekend by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, who mocked the allegations in a crude Instagram post.
In the event Ford’s allegations bring Kavanaugh down, it gave the White House some desperately needed inoculation against the fallout, reminding voters that even the best vetting process can miss something, and that the administration did the right thing once the claims came to the fore.
It also was an obvious effort by Conway to portray this administration — if not necessarily its leader — as responsive to the voices of women and assault victims.
Most of all, it acknowledged that those who may have been victims of sexual crimes are routinely ignored, marginalized and humiliated, especially by those in power, and that has to stop.
Maybe Conway was doing the right thing for partisan reasons, but it was nevertheless the right thing.
What remains to be seen is whether the Senate will follow.