Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, in a particularly troublesome attempt to defend Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, announced in a radio interview this week that he’d “hate to…to have someone ask me what I did 35 years ago.”
That has earned the 85-year-old career politician a good share of mockery, because, of course, Grassley was a senator 35 years ago—a very conservative Republican from Iowa who entered the chamber in 1981 as an anti-reproductive-rights zealot. His long struggle to ban abortion has guided Grassley’s approach to the Supreme Court nomination fights he has overseen as chairman of the committee that effectively decides whether nominees will be confirmed—or even considered. In 2016, he bent every rule in order to block the confirmation of a highly qualified and highly regarded nominee to fill a vacancy on the high court, Judge Merrick Garland. Now, just two years later, he is bending every rule he can get away with bending to clear the way for the confirmation of a far less qualified and far more controversial nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.
Opponents of reproductive rights hailed Grassley for obstructing Garland’s nomination, just as they now hail the committee chair’s obstruction of opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination. They have literally declared that “Grassley was made for this moment.”
The seven-term senator was trying to make another of his many excuses for the nominee when the chairman responded to charges that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl when he was 17 by telling a conservative radio host, “We’re talking about, you understand we’re talking about 35 years ago. I’d hate to ask, have somebody ask me what I did 35 years ago. And I think I look at it this way.”
Grassley’s flip response to an extremely serious matter—the question of how the committee he heads plans to consider Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that she was assaulted by Kavanaugh—invites consideration of the senator’s decades-long crusade to deny women the right to choose.
Grassley knows exactly what he was doing 35 years ago. It is the same thing he is doing now: using every strategy and every tactic, making every excuse and manipulating every standard in order to make possible a Supreme Court decision that reverses Roe v. Wade. He is a wily legislator who will arrange a facade of fairness. But behind that facade is a sense of mission that so animates the senator and those around him that Mike Davis, the chief counsel for nominations on Grassley’s Judiciary Committee, announced, even as the chairman was making pious pronouncements about affording Dr. Ford an honest hearing, that they were “Unfazed and determined. We will confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”