Nebraska’s Senator Ben Sasse returned for his second appearance of the week, providing more commentary on the Judge Kavanaugh hearings:
MG: I hope every American will watch the opening statement that Senator Ben Sasse had yesterday, which I thought was absolutely superb. I watched it a couple times now, and I can’t think of a better sort of explanation of what has gone wrong not with the Supreme Court, but what has gone wrong with Congress. I mean, the dysfunction we’re seeing with Supreme Court nominations is downstream from that. And the Supreme Court has become what he called a substitute political battleground in America. And Congress, in a way that I think the framers never would have anticipated, has not jealously guarded its power. Indeed, it has self-neutered, and it has surrendered its power to both the executive branch and the judiciary. And I just thought Senator Sasse, it pains me to give him credit, because I know he’ll find a way to lord it over me later. Especially for a Huskers fan, he’s just hopeless, but I thought he did…
HH: Oh, he doesn’t know anything about football. He doesn’t know anything about football.
MG: He doesn’t.
MG: No. He’s a wrestler.
HH: And I believe he beat you in the race. Did he? Did he beat you in the race this year?
MG: He didn’t, he didn’t even show up. Please. I welcome him. Anytime he wants to race, I will be…
HH: He didn’t show up?
MG: He didn’t even show up.
HH: He didn’t show up. But Senator Sasse has shown up again this morning. Good morning, Senator Sasse. That was Congressman Mike Gallagher trash talking. You didn’t show up for the race this year?
BS: Hugh, we had a lot we were going to talk about, but now let’s just talk about Gallagher. That guy, that segment was filled with lies and fake news.
BS: The guy hasn’t told the truth since ’85.
HH: Well, here’s the truth. He got me looking at the Nebraska football schedule, and we’ll get to Judge Kavanaugh in a second. You guys don’t, the Judge is going to be Justice Kavanaugh. He’ll be confirmed before you have a real game. You open against the Buffs, and then you play Troy, Michigan and Purdue. And then you get a bye week before Ohio State after playing Northwestern and Minnesota. Are you not ashamed the Little Red Nebraska football nation is so intimidated by Ohio State that they set up this patsy schedule?
BS: Our entire schedule, the fact that we want Michigan to be in decline, it’s all driven by our fear of Ohio State. Yeah, you found us out, man.
HH: Yeah, it’s…hey, look, congratulations on a terrific opening statement. You have been justly praised by even someone as inimical to you as Mike Gallagher. But then everything you had prepared to say was proven up by the P.T. Barnum show that you called a hearing yesterday.
BS: It was a bizarre circus, and yet it’s not unpredictable. You know this is what’s going to happen. I think it was a new low in a way. I don’t want to imply that yesterday was some major inflection point in a broken American politics, but the coordination between the Democrats on the committee and the protestors is just really, really not helpful to figure out what the long-term plan is to restore a sense of how the government is supposed to work and how the three branches divide power. So it was pretty ugly.
HH: And did anyone on the other side realize the damage that that sort of display of carney-like tactics does to civility everywhere? Did anyone notice that?
BS: I think one and a half of them do. So I don’t want to name them, because I’m, you know, trying to maintain and build relationships with these people, because there has to be trust. We’re going to have more crises in the future, and so I want to build human relationships with the Democrats on that panel. But I call them out in public on the most ridiculous things they do. But I think one, for sure, and possible two Democrats on the committee know that what happened yesterday is long-term, you know, productive of even more civic dis-health, if that’s a word. That doesn’t solve any problem. My dad was a football coach, and you know, I grew up trying to constantly be told by dad okay, in this situation, what play would you call. You know, I was a budding offensive coordinator from age three. And if you’re down two touchdowns, and there are :55 seconds to play, and you have the ball on your own 20, you can’t call a five yard out. Like there’s no way that that will solve the problem you face. And I think more tribal nonsense like yesterday can’t possible fix any of our problems. It just makes it worse.
HH: Now the very astute comment by John McCormack of the Weekly Standard on Twitter yesterday was that, I thought it was so astute, and I want people to credit John McCormack for doing it. It’s @McCormackJohn on Twitter, that Democratic tactics unveiled yesterday basically conceal or display a concession that they cannot flip a single Republican vote. They’ve decided they’re going to lose this, so they’re going to turn it into a circus rather than try to persuade any Republican or two not to support Judge Kavanaugh. Do you agree with that assessment by John McCormack, Ben Sasse?
BS: I do think that Kavanaugh is going to be confirmed, and I do think almost all the Democrats understand that Kavanaugh is going to confirmed and they’re not going to change any votes. So I think most of the theatrics yesterday are driven by people competing to run for president by looking more and more ridiculous and trying to scream the loudest. And I think what that really reveals is a collapse of civics and policy. It’s reasonable for people to differ about policy, but jurisprudence and the point of the judiciary is just basic Constitutional structure stuff. It’s American Civics 101. It shouldn’t be Republican V. Democrat. And so when you mistreat the voters and the American public that way, when you imply what we need to do is scream more and more to the left and all be the one who out-distanced my other competitors running for president as a Democrat to the left, which is what so many people on the panel were doing yesterday, you say to voters we don’t actually think you’re smart enough to understand American civics, and we don’t think our kids need it. And so instead, these Democrats decide to try to scream the loudest. It wasn’t actually about persuading anybody who’s persuadable in the vote about whether or not Kavanaugh is going to be confirmed. He is.
HH: Now you are going to get some good medicine in the upper chamber. Senator Kyl is returning. That is like a PRP injection for people who know. That’s where you take your body’s own plasma, you reduce it to its highly-concentrated form, and re-inject it into the injured tissue. Senator Kyl returning is very good for Judge Kavanaugh. And I think he’s good for the body. What was your reaction on hearing of that?
BS: Yeah, I think Governor Ducey made a nice choice. Because I was in the hearing all day yesterday, I didn’t understand all these particulars about the timeline. So it seems like something was different than what I thought. McCain’s term runs until the end of the 2020 election cycle.
BS: And it sounds like Senator Kyl might not be coming back for that whole time, so I don’t want to comment on that, because I don’t understand it. But Jon Kyl is a great human being. He believes grand American stuff. He has wisdom and stature and poise, and so I’m glad Ducey’s sending him back to us.
HH: Now let me also read to you a tweet from the White House. President Trump tweeting about seven minutes ago, isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact and get away with it without retribution or cost? Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws? Of course, you can’t change libel laws because of the 1st Amendment, and because they are state tort laws, and because of New York Times V. Sullivan. But what’s your reaction to the President’s reaction obviously to Bob Woodward’s book Fear excerpted in the Washington Post?
BS: I sometimes joke when I’m starting a media interview, I want to let you know I haven’t been on Twitter for seven minutes, so I don’t really know what topic we’re going to talk about today. I haven’t been on Twitter today, so I don’t know anything about what the President has tweeted about it, but let’s just back up one step. Some of what’s wrong here is that just like what the Democrats did yesterday at the hearing is that the President regularly tries to make everything tribal. And I don’t know what’s in Woodward’s book. I’ve never talked to Bob Woodward in my life. I haven’t read any of the excerpts. Again, I was doing confirmation stuff all day yesterday. But the headline versions of it that I saw at 5 or 6pm yesterday sounds real similar to lots of stuff that I hear from senior people at the White House all the time, which is that it’s a very, very chaotic environment. And so I’m not trying to beat up on the President here. But the truth is you build a team by building a cause that’s bigger than yourself. And right now, so much of what comes out of the White House is just trying to figure out how to divide Americans. And so the people who work there actually regularly do leak all over the Hill that they don’t know what the White House is about, because they don’t know what fight they’re going to try to pick today. There’s just very regularly not a big cause. So chaos is a headline I saw coming out of the clips yesterday, and it’s what I experience from top five and top ten White House people three times a week.
HH: It is also what we saw in the Senate yesterday.
HH: Chaos breeds chaos, or maybe chaos produces chaos. And maybe President Trump won because the voters of the United States are sick of this Beltway culture.
HH: Do you think there’s truth to that, Ben Sasse?
BS: The Beltway culture is a mess, and if we’re going to drain the swamp, we should actually be calling out all the swampiness, and that includes when Republican Congressmen are guilty or, or indicted for insider trading, and when Republican Congressmen are spending their campaign funds for vacations.
BS: And so absolutely. A lot of what the President wants, a lot of the reasons that the President won is because D.C. is totally dysfunctional. And frankly, Hugh, I think you’re exactly right that the same dysfunction was on evident display in the hearing. And the same dysfunction is why we see, going all the way back to Robert Bork’s tour in 1987-1995, or however long he was out there doing the Borking of America and the tempting of America and the Slouching Towards Gomorrah book tours, was that when you see protests outside the Supreme Court, that should be a flashing red light that says wait a minute, something’s wrong in America, because the American people need representation in government. They need their debates to be played out on the national stage so that decisions about how power, which should be used very modestly, but how power should be used, those fights should happen in the legislature. When they’re happening about Supreme Court confirmations, something’s really wrong.
HH: I read Judge Kavanaugh’s statement with great interest. When he referred to joining the Team of Nine, capital T, capital N, that’s the first time I have seen that gracious reference to the Court. I credit the fact that that institution works non-chaotically through the Chief Justice, both the current and the previous chief justice, and to the idea on the bench that there’s a lot to lose if your institution as a whole loses credibility. Wouldn’t it be good if that were to catch? And I think maybe it’s Kavanaugh’s great calling card that he was unruffled by all of this yesterday.
BS: Yeah, three big points there. Number one, wow for the sort of strength in his guts to sit there through all of that screaming. I was cringing for the first 90 minutes partly for America, partly because he had two little, two of his little daughters sitting there in the front row and they’re hearing people screaming from the back row that Brett Kavanaugh is going to kill people. It’s just, it’s patently absurd nonsense, and to subject somebody’s kids to something that you know to be lies is really, really painful for the republic. And Kavanaugh endured it, and then his wife got the kids out of there. So that was a good thing. But I think you’re right that I hope that the media chaos of whatever stories end up being covered the next six or ten hours in America don’t lose his opening statement with his phrases about the Team of Nine, with the fact that the Supreme Court has no center aisle. There isn’t a right and a left side to the Supreme Court. There aren’t blue and red jerseys. There are black robes. And there aren’t caucus rooms. I thought that was a really powerful thing as well. We don’t want people on the Supreme Court to go meet as if they’re permanent voting blocs. If all nine justices believed what they should believe, which is that their job is not to rewrite law as they wish it were, but to actually apply the law that’s written to the facts in the particular cases before them, we would be so much healthier. And the chance for that kind of reform includes more great nominees like Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. But it also includes the sense that some of these justices, it should persuade some of the other ones to believe in a limited, modest view of their role again. And I think he articulated that beautifully.
HH: Last quick question. My branch, the fourth branch, the fourth estate, is not non-complicit with this chaos. They amplified the non-handshake between the grieving father of a daughter who was lost at Parkland and Judge Kavanaugh who did not shake his hand. He didn’t have any idea who it was, and it wasn’t a big deal, and you know, maybe he’ll go over and shake his hand today. But we, that became one of the narratives yesterday. That, you know, I grieve with the father, but that’s not a narrative, is it, Senator Sasse?
BS: No, it’s, I didn’t know all the particulars of what unfolded there, but your opening point there that the media is part of this problem, we need to distinguish between particular herd mentality that happens around these stories and the fact that the media has to be a part of the long-term solution, which is giving the American people access to shared facts. But I think one of the things that Twitter is laying bare is the lack of a sense of, the freedom of the press, the journalistic role, is really, really important in American life. But individual journalists need to not see themselves as somehow having a role to declare the one story that everybody’s supposed to believe in as the thing that should trump every other storyline coming out of an event. And what we see on Twitter is the herd mentality of journalists who don’t even know that they have an obligation to cloak their policy preferences most of the time, too. If you’re an opinion writer, that’s a different thing. But if you’re a straight news reporter, you should be pretty worried about using your Twitter account as a way to say here’s all that I believe on every fight that might ever happen.
HH: Amen to that.
BS: In the Senate, it’s swallowed by the herd.
HH: Senator Sasse, we’ll talk again tomorrow. Good luck today.
End of interview.