When Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer threatened two sitting Supreme Court justices this week, some reporters and other Democratic politicians attempted to downplay his unprecedented attack by falsely claiming he was echoing what Justice Brett Kavanaugh had said during his contentious confirmation hearing.
Only the completely ignorant or willfully duplicitous person could make such a comparison.
In his hearing, Kavanaugh said he worried about what the partisan attempts to destroy his reputation with horrific and unsubstantiated allegations would mean for the country. Schumer, by contrast, called out Justices Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch by name and said that if they didn’t achieve his preferred pro-abortion outcome in an upcoming ruling, “you will pay the price” and “you won’t know what hit you.”
I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.
While Schumer initially claimed that when he said, “I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh,” he was addressing Republican senators, nobody believed it. His threats against the justices were widely condemned even by liberal judicial activists such as Laurence Tribe. But some activists in the media and elsewhere tried to downplay the remarks by saying they echoed Kavanaugh’s words when he expressed concern for the country.
Kavanaugh’s comments don’t need context to show they are nothing like what Schumer said, but the context really drives the point home. Far from making a threat, he was expressing concern about how the rhetoric against him was putting not only his family’s physical safety at risk but threatened the health of the entire country.
This confirmation process has become a national disgrace. The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process, but you have replaced advice and consent with search and destroy.
Since my nomination in July, there’s been a frenzy on the left to come up with something, anything to block my confirmation. Shortly after I was nominated, the Democratic Senate leader said he would, quote, ‘oppose me with everything he’s got.’ A Democratic senator on this committee publicly — publicly referred to me as evil — evil. Think about that word. It’s said that those who supported me were, quote, ‘complicit in evil.’ Another Democratic senator on this committee said, quote, ‘Judge Kavanaugh is your worst nightmare.’ A former head of the Democratic National Committee said, quote, ‘Judge Kavanaugh will threaten the lives of millions of Americans for decades to come.’
I understand the passions of the moment, but I would say to those senators, your words have meaning. Millions of Americans listen carefully to you. Given comments like those, is it any surprise that people have been willing to do anything to make any physical threat against my family, to send any violent e-mail to my wife, to make any kind of allegation against me and against my friends. To blow me up and take me down.
You sowed the wind. For decades to come, I fear that the whole country will reap the whirlwind.
You can and should revisit this section of his testimony on YouTube here.
It is worth remembering that Schumer led the filibuster of Gorsuch and orchestrated much of the campaign against Kavanaugh, reportedly because he worried Sen. Dianne Feinstein didn’t have what it took to get the job done. Within minutes of Kavanaugh’s nomination, Schumer publicly announced he would “oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything” he had.
Schumer imposed Democrat senators’ boycott of meetings with Kavanaugh. He held a conference call where Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee came up with their obstruction tactic of interrupting Republican Chair Chuck Grassley with “I am Spartacus” moments. He raised eyebrows when he said accused nominees have no presumption of innocence.
When Michael Avennati’s client Julie Swetnick claimed — with no evidence in support and plenty of evidence in opposition — that Kavanaugh was a serial gang rapist who had roamed the streets of suburban Maryland for his prey, Schumer demanded the allegations be accepted as true and that Kavanaugh’s nomination be pulled. When Kavanaugh was confirmed, mobs of protesters sieged the Supreme Court itself, scaling walls, trying to knock down doors, and throwing tomatoes and water bottles at cars carrying departing Supreme Court justices.
Plus Bad Bible Reading
The whirlwind reference comes from the Book of Hosea, in which the prophet Hosea reminds Israel of the Lord’s loving faithfulness and calls them away from unfaithfulness. Chapter 8, verse 7, reads: “For they sow the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it.”
The proverb repeatedly stresses the futility of turning away from God toward false idols. This verse is quoted by many as a call to repentance when we fail to follow God’s commands. Encouraging others not to incite violence just because of political passions, then, would be an appropriate use of the verse, as Kavanaugh used it. Encouraging attacks on those who might in some way hamper the abortion lobby through a proper reading of the law, however, would not be an appropriate use of the verse. For multiple reasons!
It is unlikely that many of the reporters and other people commenting on Schumer’s remarks understand the biblical exegesis. But even at the most simple reading, Kavanaugh was discouraging personal attacks and saying he believed the politicized nomination process that led to scurrilous and unsubstantiated claims was harmful for the country, not threatening anyone. Schumer was engaging in a personal attack and threat against sitting Supreme Court justices.
So Kavanaugh worried about how baseless personal attacks on nominees could lead to a whirlwind of bad blood hitting the country at large, while Schumer called for a whirlwind of horror to come down on Kavanaugh and Gorsuch personally if they didn’t conform to his political thinking. Totally the same thing!
False Talking Point Rules the Media
The talking point that Schumer wasn’t threatening Supreme Court justices so much as paying homage to Kavanaugh got distributed heavily through talking heads and journalists. Here are a few examples, beginning with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes:
If by “literally almost verbatim” you mean “the opposite of,” then yes, yes it is.
Here the Washington Post’s Supreme Court reporter Robert Barnes misquoted Kavanaugh on his way to pushing this false talking point:
In Politico, Adam Cancryn and Dan Diamond omitted some of Schumer’s quote to make it sound less threatening and simply misquoted Kavanaugh to force a comparison. While Schumer’s threats were not characterized as angry, Kavanaugh’s concern for the country is described as, you guessed it, “angry.”
Really interesting how so many people pushing the same false talking point at the same time they managed to have so many misquotes. In any case, Vox’s Ian Milhiser got the memo, and the omission of key words:
Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick also misquoted Kavanaugh, although she later corrected part of the error. Lithwick actually has the distinction of misquoting Kavanaugh routinely.
In an article explaining that she was so emotionally distraught by Kavanaugh’s confirmation that she could not even pretend to cover him accurately, honestly, or fairly — “A Year After Kavanaugh, I Can’t Go Back To the Supreme Court” — she falsely claimed he had “promised that his doubters and detractors will ‘reap the whirlwind.'” Again, his quote was “I fear that the whole country will reap the whirlwind” of the politicized confirmation process he was put through that led to threats against him and his family.
In any case, here’s her take on Schumer:
While she corrected the article later to add in and correct the words “for decades to come. I fear that the whole country,” you might note that she eliminated the 10 or so sentences between the first line she excerpts and the last line. What curious work our journalists are doing to avoid being accurate about what Kavanaugh said or meant. As per usual.
NPR’s Deirdre Walsh claims without evidence or substantiation that Schumer’s threat was “supposed to be a reference to Kavanaugh.”
Perhaps the best example of journalistic malpractice was the article written by the aforementioned Barnes, who showed his hand with his tweet falsely conflating Kavanaugh’s concern about the effect of baseless personal attacks with Schumer’s heightened campaign against the safety and independence of federal judges he opposes. Here’s how he wrote it up:
The headline on the article was a classic from the genre where journalists “pounce” and “seize” on Republicans not being silent in the face of wrongdoing:
In any case, you will note what Barnes and his coauthor Colby Itkowitz left out. They left out that there was no evidence in support of the accusation levied against Kavanaugh. That none of the four witnesses named by his accuser Christine Blasey Ford corroborated her account. In fact, they spoke against it, saying it didn’t match what they knew.
Ford’s sole claimed female witness tried hard to help her lifelong friend but came to doubt the veracity of the story, a journey told by Carrie Severino and myself in our bestselling book “Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court.” That story is confirmed in subsequent books by other authors.
This female witness was subjected to bullying and threats by mutual acquaintances of the two women to change her story, but she declined to do so. (See: “21 Reasons Not To Believe Christine Blasey Ford’s Claims About Justice Kavanaugh.“) Barnes and Itkowitz sanitize the campaign against Kavanaugh by failing to mention the coordinated effort to destroy his reputation with a slow drip of even more ridiculous allegations, such as the aforementioned Avenatti smear, the rape boat in Rhode Island, and other invented stories.
The two don’t note that while the Washington Post led the anti-Kavanaugh effort and legitimized the allegations without evidence against him, they dropped their investigation into what they claimed were legitimate allegations as soon as he was confirmed. They don’t mention that Blasey Ford’s attorney admitted that support for abortion motivated her and her client to push the allegations, just as Schumer’s support for abortion motivates him to threaten sitting Supreme Court justices. The attorney said the goal was not even to keep him off the court so much as to put an “asterisk” next to any ruling of the justice.
Democratic nominees’ calls to pack the court or institute term limits are about intimidation. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse recently tried to threaten the court to rule a particular way or face consequences. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bizarre question about the Supreme Court’s legitimacy during impeachment was itself an effort to delegitimize the court, as is the aforementioned effort to put an asterisk by certain justices’ names and rulings.
The media, however, should report accurately and honestly about Schumer’s threats and stop falsely blaming his victims. After all the media did to damage Kavanaugh and his family, honesty is the least they owe him at this late date.