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Ernst: Democrats who voted against Kavanaugh were ‘reprehensible’

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Illustration by Jordan Sellergren.

Sen. Joni Ernst called North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s vote against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court “reprehensible,” in an interview last week on North Dakota television.

Heitkamp, the lone Democrat in North Dakota’s congressional delegation, is considered one of the most endangered incumbents this year (Donald Trump won the state by 36 points). It would have been in her self-interest to vote for Kavanaugh, but as she explained to 60 Minutes, after Kavanaugh’s ranting, conspiracy-theory-embracing response to testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, she couldn’t vote “yes.”

“I saw a level of anger and combativeness that I thought was not something that would qualify you to sit on the Supreme Court,” Heitkamp said.

On Friday, Ernst told POV with Chris Berg, broadcast on Fargo’s KX4-CBS and West Dakota Fox, that Heitkamp was just following “political lines” in her vote against Kavanaugh.

And the fact that your home-state senator voted ‘no’ against Judge Kavanaugh is reprehensible. It’s following political lines, and Judge Kavanaugh was shamelessly put through the wringer by Democratic operatives. And his family was threatened. I understand how he could be a very angry and bitter person trying to defend himself against allegations that were just thrown at him. So, uh, very bad to follow political lines when we had an eminently qualified judge.

Ernst’s remarks came one day after she agreed that political arguments over the Kavanaugh confirmation had “damaged” the Senate, during an interview with CBS News Radio’s podcast “The Take Out.” But Ernst immediately blamed the Democrats for any problems, and equated people speaking sharply to their elected representative with threats of violence.

“I think there was a lot of threats of physical violence, threats of getting up in congresspeople’s faces. Anybody that supported the nomination, there was encouragement out there to do harm to those that supported Judge Kavanaugh,” Ernst said.

Asked about her vote for Kavanaugh, Ernst told podcast host Major Garrett, “The controversy surrounding him, ah, there was no evidence of wrong-doing. All of the reports that we scrubbed through — there was absolutely no evidence. So, [I] felt comfortable moving forward with the confirmation.”

The additional FBI report on Kavanaugh was, of course, the product of an investigation that the White House severely limited, and Ernst’s claims about “absolutely no evidence” are not backed up by other senators.

Earlier documents produced during the hearings also indicated that Kavanaugh had possibly committed perjury, or at least given deliberately misleading answers, during previous Senate testimony.

Garrett, also the White House correspondent for CBS News (and former White House correspondent for Fox News) asked Ernst about Blasey Ford’s testimony that she was assaulted by Kavanaugh as a teenager. The senator said “every accuser has the right to be heard” and she believed “Dr. Ford did experience some sort of trauma in her lifetime,” but “I don’t believe it was Brett Kavanaugh that perpetrated that intimate crime against her.”

Ernst accused Democrats on the Judiciary Committee staff of “outing” Blasey Ford — “they threw her to the wolves” — in an attempt “to sink Kavanaugh.” Actually, Blasey Ford came forward on her own, after reporters who had heard of the Kavanaugh allegations from her friends began making inquiries.

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The senator told Garrett that supporting victims of sexual assault had been an important issue for her ever since she volunteered at a women’s shelter while an undergraduate at Iowa State University. When Garrett asked Ernst if that experience a quarter of century ago — she graduate in 1992 — gave her any insights into Blasey Ford’s testimony, Ernst repeated what she had said earlier.

“Well, I think that it did remind me that I felt that she actually had been abused at some point. I felt that,” Ernst said. “So I have no doubt that she has been abused at some point.” But she said that Blasey Ford’s inability to produce any witnesses to the event “hurt her credibility.”

Garrett asked Ernst what she made of Blasey Ford being “100 percent” certain that Kavanaugh assaulted her.

Well, a lot of things can change through a number of years, and sometimes you can displace people. You may not remember what their face looks like, you may not remember physical characteristics. But there might be something that triggers and replaces that face with somebody else’s face. And that’s why it’s so difficult so many years after an incident to actually be certain about what happened.

Ernst added, “And this is my statement to anyone that is a survivor of sexual abuse is that if you are comfortable coming forward right away, you need to do it right away.”

Ernst also referenced the Kavanaugh nomination during a speech at Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Harvest Festival fundraiser on Saturday night. She praised Sen. Chuck Grassley’s performance as Judiciary Committee chair during the Kavanaugh hearings.

“I know this is Kim Reynolds’ night, but can we give a big round for Chuck Grassley?” Ernst said.

Grassley, who was at the fundraiser, also touted Kavanaugh’s confirmation. He said every Republican should campaign on the slogan, “Remember Kavanaugh!”


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