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Week In Politics: Battle Over Brett Kavanaugh, #MeToo 1 Year Later And Midterms


Let's take stock now of what this moment means for the American political system and society more broadly. For our regular Friday week in politics conversation, we are joined by Kimberly Atkins, chief Washington reporter and columnist for the Boston Herald. Good to have you back, Kimberly.


SHAPIRO: And also Bethany Mandel joins us. She's an editor of Ricochet and columnist for The Forward. Welcome to you.

BETHANY MANDEL: Hey. Thanks so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: This fight has been so divisive and bitter. Bethany, do you think it will leave a lasting mark on Congress?

MANDEL: I do. I found a lot of the conversations from Republicans about sort of how this played out with the fact that Feinstein's office had these allegations for as long as they had them and sat on them - there was a lot of anger from folks that you don't normally see anger from, particularly Lindsey Graham and Ben Sasse, who are sort of the more moderate, levelheaded Republicans. And there was a lot of past-tense use of, you know, we were friends; we used to work together. And I think this anger doesn't go away for a while.

SHAPIRO: Kimberly, what do you think? Is the Senate going to be able to move on from this, or has it poisoned some of the relationships that lawmakers really need to get things done?

ATKINS: I mean, look; I think the partisanship that was happening that's present in the Senate existed long before this confirmation battle. This certainly exacerbated it to a greater extent. We saw the pressure that was placed on the moderates in the Senate like Senator Collins, like Senator Manchin.

I would disagree that Senator Graham is still considered (laughter) one of the more levelheaded members of the Senate right now. He seems to be really, really a spokesperson basically for President Trump at this point. And that's the role he's served throughout this confirmation process. But the Senate is a tough place for moderates to be right now, and I think that only grows more so.

SHAPIRO: Looking beyond Congress, this controversy has prompted some women to share stories of abuse from years or decades ago. For example, newscaster Connie Chung told her story of sexual assault in The Washington Post this week.


CONNIE CHUNG: I, too, was sexually assaulted not 36 years ago but about 50 years ago. The molester was our trusted family doctor.

SHAPIRO: We're now one year after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke and launched the #MeToo movement, and so I wonder what it is about this Kavanaugh-Ford debate that is making people speak out now who might not have told their stories after Weinstein or Bill Cosby or any of the others. Kimberly, what do you think?

ATKINS: Well, look. Talking to women who have called me, emailed me to tell their stories of sexual assault, which is happening with a lot of journalists lately, I think the idea that someone who is accused of this could reach a level of such power despite women coming forward and telling their stories about that - it's really alarming to them. It's not about - I mean, a lot of these women - we were talking the anger of women. These women weren't angry.

They were more gutted that this could happen, that these stories - women - even if folks say, like Senator Collins said, that she believes that Dr. Ford suffered something but that there's no proof that it was him, well, the idea usually when it's an acquaintance situation that memory works that way - I mean, Dr. Ford's a scientist. She explains how memory works in her own context - and that if she couldn't even be believed enough to stop this, that there is a concern that this is really a system that's rigged against women.

SHAPIRO: Bethany, I know you've written with some degree of skepticism about Ford's account against Kavanaugh. What do you think the consequences of this episode will be for society more broadly?

MANDEL: So I think that it's an important conversation to have about sexual assault, but I think that this is also - and Collins spoke to it a great deal in her commentary on the floor. There's also a presumption of innocence, and there's an expectation that you can't bring forward these kinds of serious allegations that can dismantle an entire career without any corroboration. And unfortunately there wasn't in this case. In the case of Roy Moore, when he came up and accusers came forward, there...

SHAPIRO: This is the Alabama Senate race.

MANDEL: Yeah, yeah. There was corroboration that a lot of his accusers had that made their accounts convincing. And I didn't personally see that in any of these circumstances.

SHAPIRO: I also want to ask you both about the political consequences of this debate because when Ford first testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrats and Republicans called her credible and expressed sympathy and admiration for her willingness to speak publicly. This week, some took on a different tone, starting with President Trump. Here he was at a rally in Mississippi on Tuesday night.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: How did you get home? I don't remember. How did you get there? I don't remember. Where is the place? I don't remember. How many years ago was it? I don't know.


SHAPIRO: The audience laughed and applauded. And at that same rally, Trump said this is a very scary time for young men in America. With the midterms one month away, Bethany, do you think this will have an impact?

MANDEL: Yeah, absolutely. And we're already seeing that as far as fundraising and sort of enthusiasm from Republicans. This has been a very unifying moment for Republicans. I mean, we saw Bret Stephens in The New York Times applaud President Trump, and that's something that I don't think anyone thought that they would have seen three weeks ago, let alone now. But this is really I think going to drum up a lot of enthusiasm on the right in a way that hasn't existed since 2016...

SHAPIRO: Kimberly, do you think...

MANDEL: ...Since before then.

SHAPIRO: ...That enthusiasm will last for the next month if Kavanaugh is confirmed to the court this weekend as expected?

MANDEL: I think that's still unclear. I mean, there definitely was a fear. Republicans told me they were afraid that the - a poor part of their base would revolt against them if they didn't get Kavanaugh through. Now that won't happen. It seemed more like a defensive play. I don't know if that's enough to counteract the energy that we are seeing right now on the other side that is spurred by the sort of gender war it seems that's being exacerbated by the president with the comments that you played. I think that really spurs the other side. The losing side traditionally is the one with the momentum after a fight like this.

SHAPIRO: And just briefly from each of you, now that it looks like Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court, apart from the shift to the right ideologically that he is expected to bring to the court, do each of you think that the echoes of this fight will linger in the Supreme Court itself, Kimberly?

ATKINS: It could. I mean, look; Clarence Thomas still speaks with a lot of disdain about his own confirmation process, so it's very possible. This is a consensus-building group. That's how they have to be to function. So it's tough to see how that doesn't play a role.

SHAPIRO: And briefly, Bethany, I'll give you the last word.

MANDEL: Yeah. I think this has radicalized a lot of people. And I think Kavanaugh is one of them. I'm not sure how much of this sort of - this experience has impacted his judicial opinions, but I can't see that it hasn't changed his mind somehow about due process, about the presumption of innocence. I think that this probably did maybe push him more rightward than he would have otherwise been had this been a smooth confirmation process.

SHAPIRO: That's Bethany Mandel, editor of Ricochet and columnist for The Forward, and Kimberly Atkins, chief Washington reporter and columnist for the Boston Herald. Thanks to both of you. Have a good weekend.

ATKINS: Thank you.

MANDEL: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.