reporter's notebook

The Grim Scene Outside Today’s Senate GOP Lunch

September 26, 2018 4:22 p.m.

On the days when Vice President Mike Pence attends one of Republicans’ regular lunch meetings, as he did today, things are always a little more hectic for the reporters staking them out — there’s more security, and more restrictions on where we can go.

But the scene outside Wednesday’s caucus meeting was even more crazed than usual on the eve of a hearing with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and a woman who’s accused him of sexual misconduct. Just hours before the lunch began, another woman, represented by Michael Avenatti, came out with similar allegations. Dozens of reporters packed the second floor of the U.S. Capitol building, outside the dining room across the hall from the Senate chamber, where GOPers typically gather.

The meeting went late, wrapping up about 25 minutes after than 1:45 p.m. ET, when Wednesday’s only Senate vote was scheduled. And when members did begin to trickle out, most of them bee-lined for the chamber and kept their heads down as reporters peppered them with questions about the allegations against the judge, and whether the Senate was doing enough to investigate them before a confirmation vote early next week.

Some told us they weren’t commenting until after tomorrow’s hearing, others refused to acknowledge the questions altogether. I saw only a few senators lingering to chat with reporters, and, of them, only Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) defended Kavanaugh vehemently.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) was deliberate, taking a swipe at the Democratic minority staff but not at the women. He described the last two weeks as “surreal, hijacked by theatrics, political as hell.”

“This is no country for creepy old men or creepy young men or creepy middle-aged men,” he said. “But this is also no country to deny people due process.”

The members of the leadership team did what they could to deny that their caucus was shaken by the allegations, though they weren’t nearly as convincing as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was earlier this week, when, projecting confidence, he said he believed Kavanaugh would be confirmed.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) looked visibly relieved when a question posed to him was about a reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration, and not the Kavanaugh allegations. It took less then a minute for another reporter to spoil that relief with a question about whether the caucus was wavering in its support for the nominee.

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