GOP focuses on crime as questions for Jackson begin: The Note

Democrats have defended the nominee against allegations she is "soft on crime."

March 22, 2022, 6:01 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

There's too much ambition and too much at stake for subtlety to win out in Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Leaving aside niceties about college pride and the occasional podcast plug, Republicans have rather explicitly forecast their lines of attack in the questioning of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson that begins Tuesday morning.

GOP senators -- led by, but not limited to, those with potential 2024 ambitions -- are focusing squarely on issues of crime and appropriate levels of punishment, as they portray a dark vision of the nation under Democratic governance that's only tangentially connected to Jackson's record.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., used his opening statement to cite "skyrocketing violent crime and drug overdoses": "We are witnessing a breakdown of society."

PHOTO: Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson is seated during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 21, 2022.
Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson is seated during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 21, 2022.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, cited "murder rates, carjacking rates, crime rates skyrocketing" to wonder about the future of the Second Amendment: "Will a justice roll over to the Democrats that want a disarmed citizen?"

And Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is sticking with his line of attack on Jackson's sentencing of child-pornography offenders despite fact-checks pointing out that he has voted to confirm other federal judges who similarly veered from sentencing guidelines.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., took Hawley a step further: "I can only wonder, what's your hidden agenda? Is it to let child predators back to the streets?"

Democrats are lining up to defend Jackson against suggestions that she is "soft on crime." Jackson herself hinted at how she will address such critiques by telling senators in her opening statement that she adopts a "neutral posture" and sees her judicial role as "a limited one."

Initially, at least, Democrats see the GOP attacks as less about Jackson than about the politics of the moment and of the year. That, though, may be the point -- particularly as issues of race and justice surface through the questions Jackson faces this week.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

The historic nature of hearings for Judge Jackson offer a look at both the nation's fraught relationship with race and the idea that diversity should be championed.

In flippant remarks, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., indicated he believes tough questions for Jackson from Republicans would be regarded as "racist." His remarks also included a thinly veiled nod to lawmakers who claimed Biden's Supreme Court pick would be a beneficiary of affirmative action.

"You are the beneficiary of a lot," Graham said during his remarks.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., took issue with a private school where Jackson serves on the board that supports "antiracist education," calling it a concerning endorsement of "indoctrination." She also insinuated that Jackson had a "hidden agenda" to incorporate the concept of critical race theory on the court. The legal concept has become shorthand in conservative circles for teaching about race. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., during his remarks called it "racist vitriol" and "poison."

PHOTO: Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., leaves a policy luncheon, Feb. 17, 2022, on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., leaves a policy luncheon, Feb. 17, 2022, on Capitol Hill.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Throughout the first day of hearings, other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee from both parties repeatedly celebrated the opportunity to make the court look more like America.

Jackson herself made it clear that she is aware of the history she could make and the impact that it could have on others, referring to how Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman on the federal bench, inspired her.

"Like Judge Motley, I have dedicated my career to ensuring the words engraved on the front of the Supreme Court building -- 'equal justice under law' -- are a reality and not just an ideal," Jackson said. She later added, "Thank you for this historic chance to join the highest court, to work with brilliant colleagues, to inspire future generations and to ensure liberty and justice for all."

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

For the second time this campaign cycle, a Republican candidate for Senate is facing intense scrutiny over allegations of physical abuse amid a custody battle -- except this time, the allegations involve a candidate who does not officially have former President Donald Trump's endorsement.

Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens' ex-wife alleges in an affidavit that he physically abused their children and threatened suicide if she did not publicly support him amid the fallout of a 2018 sex scandal that led to his resignation from office, according to court documents obtained by ABC News. Greitens is now a high-profile candidate in the crowded Republican primary to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt.

PHOTO: Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is pictured before stepping up to the podium to deliver remarks to a small group of supporters announcing the release of funds for the state's biodiesel program, May 17, 2018, in Jefferson City, Mo.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is pictured before stepping up to the podium to deliver remarks to a small group of supporters announcing the release of funds for the state's biodiesel program, May 17, 2018, in Jefferson City, Mo.
Jeff Roberson/AP, FILE

In the filing, Sheena Greitens describes her ex-husband demonstrating "unstable and coercive behavior" including "physical violence toward our children, such as cuffing our then three-year-old son across the face at the dinner table in front of me and yanking him around by the hair."

On Monday, the allegations rippled across Capitol Hill. As reported by ABC News' Trish Turner and Faith Abubey, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa -- who is a victim of domestic abuse by her former husband and who endorsed Vicki Hartzell, one of Greitens' opponents -- said the former governor should drop out of the race. Greitens' fellow Missourian, GOP colleague Sen. Josh Hawley, said in a tweet, "If you hit a woman or a child, you belong in handcuffs, not the United States Senate. It's time for Eric Greitens to leave this race."

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who chairs the Republican Senatorial campaign arm, called the situation "pretty disturbing" but fell short of calling on Greitens to drop out.

"We got to find out more information, but the voters are gonna make a good decision," he said.

NUMBER OF THE DAY, powered by FiveThirtyEight

8.2. That's the weighted average error of Senate polls -- or how far off the average polling margin was from the final result -- according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of Senate polls conducted during the first six months of the election years from 1998 to 2021. Governor polls conducted over the same period had a weighted average error of 8.6 points. As FiveThirtyEight's Geoffrey Skelley and Nathaniel Rakich write, that means you can start paying attention to those early general election polls, as they're fairly predictive even early on. But, as always, remember polls come with a margin of error, and in many 2022 elections, there are still too few polls to show a clear lay of the land.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Start Here begins Tuesday morning with opening statements from Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation hearing. ABC's Rachel Scott has highlights from the first day of remarks. Then, ABC's Gio Benitez reports on a passenger jet crash in China. And, ABC's Kaylee Hartung lays out former teen star Amanda Bynes' conservatorship battle. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki and national security adviser Jake Sullivan hold a briefing at 1 p.m.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee reconvenes at 9 a.m. when Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson begins two days of intense questioning from the committee's 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats.
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee holds hearings to examine several nominations at 9:30 a.m.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.

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