Confirmation hearings test vanishing middle: The Note

A few senators will seek to blow up the script.

March 21, 2022, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

You could watch the confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson that start Monday to learn more about a history-making jurist who will almost certainly soon take a seat on the Supreme Court.

You could watch some if not most of both the Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee tread carefully around charged politics of race, gender and judicial philosophy -- during a time when Americans' attention has been drawn elsewhere.

Or you could watch to see how and why a few senators seek to blow up the script -- in the hopes of ricocheting issues of and around the high court into greater public discussion in 2022 and 2024.

The declaration by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., that he sees "a record that endangers our children" in Jackson's writings and professional history stakes a claim on scorched-earth tactics that some Republicans think is warranted in the context of Trump-era confirmation battles.

PHOTO: Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson conducts meetings on Captiol Hill, Washington, March 8, 2022.
Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson conducts meetings on Captiol Hill, Washington, March 8, 2022.
Lenin Nolly/Zuma Press

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is already firing back: "He's part of the fringe within the Republican Party," Durbin told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week," citing Hawley's encouragement for the Jan. 6 rioters. "He doesn't have the credibility he thinks he does."

Credibility aside, Hawley and other ambitious Republicans on the committee have access to a valuable megaphone in questioning Jackson over the coming days. It's notable that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell isn't setting that much of a softer tone, saying last week that her record suggests the judge has "a special empathy for criminals."

Democrats, of course, have the votes to get Jackson through committee and the Senate floor without any help from Republicans.

But President Joe Biden and Democrats want to send Jackson to the Supreme Court with a bipartisan message. They hope the three GOP votes she won to get confirmed to her current post is a floor and not a ceiling.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

As negotiations appear to be at a standstill on funding for resources to address the pandemic, the Biden administration is sounding the alarm about what is at stake for testing, vaccine and treatment efforts.

The administration is asking for billions in funding. The problem is they don't have enough support within their own party, let alone with the GOP.

Without replenishment of cash, COVID care for the uninsured and free testing could be a thing of the past. The government could run out of treatment doses and may not be able to guarantee a large number of vaccines should the need for another booster arise.

PHOTO: Anthony Fauci speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, Jan. 11, 2022.
Anthony Fauci speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, Jan. 11, 2022.
Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

"The other thing we can do -- and I hope that we get the funding from the Congress to do this, is to continue to build up our supply of antivirals, of tests and of the ability to get boosted," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser on "This Week." He later added, "We really must be prepared for the possibility that we might get another variant and we don't want to be caught flatfooted on that."

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, during an event Friday marking the first year in his post, indicated that he is willing to hear lawmakers' input to strike a deal.

"We put forward some ideas on a package that didn't quite get over the finish line. We're willing to listen to whatever people want," Becerra told reporters.

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

The tensions of the crowded Ohio Republican Senate primary were on full display during a weekend debate in which two candidates literally faced off on stage and had to be separated by the moderator amid jeers from the audience.

Former state treasurer Josh Mandel and businessman Mike Gibbons got into a physical standoff after Mandel accused Gibbons of "making millions" from Chinese oil stocks. Gibbons denied the claims and fired back by saying Mandel couldn't understand the dealings because he hadn't worked in the private sector.

The situation escalated with Mandel getting out of his seat as Gibbons told him, "you don't know squat," to which Mandel responded, "Two tours in Iraq, don’t tell me I haven’t worked.” The men continued encroaching on each other's personal space until the moderator intervened and Mandel took his seat with Gibbons going on to finish his response to the debate question. Whether the interaction affects either candidates' appeal to voters remains to be seen, but at least one of their GOP competitors is criticizing the fallout.

PHOTO: Mike Gibbons and Josh Mandel exchange heated arguments at the FreedomWorks Forum for Ohio's Republican Senate Candidates in Columbus, Ohio, March 18, 2022.
Mike Gibbons and Josh Mandel exchange heated arguments at the FreedomWorks Forum for Ohio's Republican Senate Candidates in Columbus, Ohio, March 18, 2022.
Andrew Spear/Getty Images

"They completely made clowns of themselves [...] It's just a joke, it made everyone look terrible honestly, except those of us who avoided it and kept the focus on substance," author J.D. Vance said in a subsequent interview with Steve Bannon.

The incident could, however, put a renewed spotlight on voters' interests in debates given that in recent months, political debates appear to have been sidelined by some candidates from serving as major campaign milestones. The Republican National Committee's move to "prohibit" GOP nominees from participating in debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, also adds an undercurrent of tension.

NUMBER OF THE DAY, powered by FiveThirtyEight

3. That's the number of Republican senators who backed Ketanji Brown Jackson's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last year -- but as FiveThirtyEight's Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux writes, there's no guarantee those senators will remain on her side now that a Supreme Court seat is up for grabs. According to a FiveThirtyEight analysis from February, only one of the seven justices confirmed since Justice Stephen Breyer -- Chief Justice John Roberts -- has received more than 69% of the Senate's votes. Roberts is also the only justice to have earned the backing of a majority of the other party's senators.


ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Start Here begins Monday morning with ABC’s Devin Dwyer on the historic Supreme Court nomination hearings in the Senate. Then, ABC’s James Longman breaks down Russian reaction to the Russia-Ukraine war. And, ABC’s Jennifer Watts explains a wave of “crime tourism” in California.


  • President Joe Biden receives his daily briefing at 9:30 a.m., then he hosts a call with France President Emmanuel Macron of France, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italy Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discuss their coordinated responses to Russia’s attack on Ukraine at 11 a.m. At 6 p.m., Biden joins a business roundtable’s CEO quarterly meeting to discuss the war in Ukraine and his plans to lower the costs for families, create union jobs and tackle climate change.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki and Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger hold a press briefing at 2:30 p.m.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee's opening statements for a hearing to examine the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court begin at 11 a.m.
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