Republicans participating in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson can mostly be sorted into two groups. Some are being fairly civil and more or less relevant in their questioning, pausing frequently to congratulate themselves for behaving better than Democrats did during Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings (which involved serious sexual-assault allegations). But some Republican senators aren’t behaving well at all, and their outbursts often have little to do with Jackson.
The latter group includes several Judiciary Committee Republicans thought to have aspirations for higher office. Senator Josh Hawley has been attacking Jackson’s record on child-porn penalties (possibly as a shout-out to QAnon and Pizzagate enthusiasts). Senator Tom Cotton keeps trying to identify Jackson with criminal-justice reform efforts he considers dangerously wrong-minded, which fits with his larger effort to wage a latter-day war on drugs (and crime). Senator Ted Cruz has gone to laughable lengths to tie Jackson to critical race theory, the furor du jour among conservatives. And batting cleanup each day, Senator Marsha Blackburn has reinforced every hard-core and irrelevant attack raised by her colleagues, possibly as part of an audition to be Donald Trump’s next running mate.
But none of these senators can match South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham in terms of heated, out-of-control expostulations. Maybe the fact that he brought up Kavanaugh at least three times is unsurprising since Graham was the face of Republican fury over the allegations against Kavanaugh when they arose in 2018:
But if possible, Graham is even angrier now. At one point on day three of Jackson’s hearings, Graham badgered the judge, demanding that she say how she’d feel if the Judiciary Committee confronted her with an “ambush” like the one that he claimed Kavanaugh had faced.
This wasn’t a lone, retroactive burst of petulance. In his first round of questions a day earlier, Graham got increasingly heated about policies that allowed the release of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay (which was only tangentially related to a long-ago case in which Jackson represented prisoners) and stalked out of the room when his tirade ended. And when he wasn’t relitigating grievances over Kavanaugh and former Court of Appeals judge Janice Brown Rogers (a Black jurist temporarily blocked by Democrats for her extremist views over the constitutionality of social programs), Graham got into Jackson’s face on the child-porn sentencing issues that other senators had already beaten to death:
Unlike some of his posturing colleagues, Lindsey Graham is on no one’s short- or longlist for president in 2024. His 2016 campaign crashed and burned before voters even voted (the day before he suspended his campaign in December 2015, RealClearPolitics showed him with a polling average of 0.5 percent of GOP voters supporting his candidacy). The main legacy of Graham ’16 was the nasty words he said about Donald Trump that he later had to eat (as he did with no visible shame).
So if Graham doesn’t harbor presidential ambitions anymore, and he isn’t facing an election any time soon (he was reelected in 2020), why is he so out of control at the Jackson hearings? Maybe it’s just who he is.