Protesters gather at the Old Capitol as Sen. Grassley holds hearing on sexual assault charges against Judge Kavanaugh

Protesters gathered on the steps of the Old Capitol at noon Thursday to call on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to reject Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, or at least conduct a thorough investigation of the charges of sexual assault brought against him by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and two other women. The protesters also spoke forcefully about the importance of listening to and supporting survivors of sexual assault.

Several in the group of almost 50 spoke about their experiences of sexual assault and the impact it has had on their lives.

The rally came after the morning session of the Judiciary Committee’s hearing regarding Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her during high school. That session began with a rambling statement by the committee’s chairman, Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Throughout Thursday’s hearing, an agitated and often angry Grassley seemed more concerned with defending his decision to not fully investigate the charges against Kavanaugh than in investigating the charges. During the confirmation process, the Republican majority on the committee has also decided not to fully review Kavanaugh’s long career in the federal government (the National Archives hasn’t yet finished processing all the Kavanaugh-related documents requested by the Senate), or investigate the possibility Kavanaugh has lied under oath or even engaged in some suspicious financial transactions.

Grassley’s assertions were almost uniformly false, but it’s not possible to determine if he was being deliberately dishonest, because the 85 year-old senator often appeared confused.

Video still of Sen. Chuck Grassley presiding over the Senate Judiciary Committee’s consideration of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, Sept. 28, 2018.

Kavanaugh, who testified after Blasey Ford was finished, was even angrier than Grassley. His aggressive demeanor was almost operatic, with him barking out his opening statement, interrupting Democratic senators (especially the female senators), refusing to directly answer questions or offering dismissive replies (again, especially to the four women on the committee — after a break in his testimony, Kavanaugh offered a perfunctory apology to Sen. Amy Klobuchar for earlier demanding to know if she was a blackout drunk).

The nominee punctuated his angry testimony with maudlin moments of sniffing back tears, such as when he became overwhelmed by emotion while explaining his father’s habit of keeping a detailed person calendar. (It’s worth noting that Kavanaugh wasn’t tearing up over a memory of a deceased loved one. Both his parents are still alive, and were sitting in the audience of the hearing.)

Kavanaugh’s denial that he ever sexually assaulted anyone or was even aware of any sexual assault within his circle of acquaintances was expected, even if his tone wasn’t. What was unexpected was his claim that he’s the victim of a massive conspiracy, and his use of language typically seen in a right-wing political site’s comment section instead of a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee.

During his prepared remarks, a visibly enraged Kavanaugh said:

This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.

Kavanaugh’s performance raised concerns about his judicial temperament, and how he might treat groups that opposed his confirmation. (Also worth noting: there’s no way to require that a justice recuse himself from a case in which he might have a vested interest. In the Bush v. Gore decision, Justice Antonin Scalia did not recuse himself — and indeed, provided the fifth vote that handed the presidency to George W. Bush — despite the fact his son was one of the Bush campaign’s lawyers.)

Hours before the hearing started, the Des Moines Register released a new poll showing that 50 percent of Iowans approved of Grassley’s performance as a senator. That’s down from his all-time high of an 81 percent approval rating 15 years ago, but was one point up from his approval rating in a poll earlier this year.

The people gathered at the Old Capitol were not among the 50 percent who approve of Grassley’s performance. Several of the speakers said how ashamed they were of Grassley’s handling of the Kavanaugh hearing. Protest organizer Leslie Schwalm, director of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Iowa, drew a contrast between Blasey Ford and Grassley.

“She is standing up,” Schwalm said, “and she is making Sen. Grassley look like the dead worm he is.”

Protesters rally on the steps of the Old Capitol in response to the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

Barbara Fuller, a UI medical student, pointed to the actions of Iowa’s other senator.

“Joni Ernst trusts [Kavanaugh] for some reason,” Fuller said.

Ernst has promoted herself as an advocate fighting on behalf of survivors of sexual assault. She has also been a reliable pro-Trump vote.

Asked on Thursday by NBC News for her opinion of Blasey Ford’s testimony, Ernst replied, “I am in meetings all day so I’m not watching TV.”

“What is the point of having a female senator if she doesn’t stand up for women’s rights?” Fuller said. “Call Joni Ernst, call Chuck Grassley. And, for God’s sake, vote in November.”

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