Largely civil Barrett confirmation hearings break expectations, mark stark contrast to 2018 Kavanaugh affair

Hearing even ended with hug between Democratic and Republican senators

"Mr. Chairman, I just want to thank you," Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein told committee Chairman Lindsey Graham on Thursday. "This has been one of the best Senate hearings that I've participated in, and I want to thank you for your fairness and the opportunity of going back and forth."

Graham, R-S.C., replied: "I know we have very different views about the judge and whether we should be doing this or not. But having said all that, to my Democratic colleagues, you have challenged the judge, you have challenged us, and I accept those challenges as being sincere and not personal."

Graham then ended the hearing and he and Feinstein, D-Calif., hugged -- an ending that was a stark contrast to the 2018 hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The moment followed four days of contentious but largely civilized hearings. There was partisan grandstanding and electioneering, as can be expected when lawmakers are given four full business days on national television. There were warnings from Democrats that Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is a threat to Roe v. Wade and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And there were lamentations from Republicans about the fact Democratic presidential and vice-presidential nominees Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, respectively, still won't tell voters whether they'll pack the Supreme Court. 

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But Republicans' predictions that Democrats would attack the nominee's religion never materialized, at least in the hearings. And Democrats failed to strike any major blows to Barrett's confirmation prospects before the representatives of the nonpartisan American Bar Association (ABA) appeared to discuss their "Well Qualified" rating of Barrett, relaying descriptions of the federal judge as "brilliant," "forthright," and an "intellectual giant."

Feinstein herself at one point Wednesday even told Barrett, "I'm really impressed, thank you," in response to a description of the legal principles she would have to take into account in an upcoming constitutional challenge to the ACA.

All of this was a sharp contrast from the 2018 confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which were marred with bombastic behavior from senators, regular interruptions from protesters, threats to lawmakers and lurid sexual assault accusations pushed against the nominee.

Lawyer Michael Avenatti, who has since been convicted of attempted extortion, did not make an appearance this week. 

Any winners of the hearings -- besides Barrett for coming through unscathed and the American people for getting a civil and largely substantive hearing for their potential Supreme Court justice -- are unclear.

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Republicans can't cut ads hammering Democrats for misbehavior during the hearings or trying to assassinate the character of the nominee for political reasons. Although not always in context or accurate, Democrats' attacks on Barrett were largely on her past rulings and political stances. 

And Democrats can't hammer Republicans for forcing through the nominee without a thorough examination of her credentials or giving Democrats enough time to ask their questions. Although Graham will have to push the nominee out of committee over Democratic boycotts objecting to the timing of the process, he made clear he's giving Democrats "the time you need to make your case" and that "Judge Barrett is required for the good of the country to submit to your questions and ours."

This was done over the objections of President Trump, who in a Monday tweet encouraged Republicans to stop "giving the Democrats a great deal of time, which is not mandated."

LIBERAL GROUP CALLS FOR FEINSTEIN TO STAND DOWN FROM JUDICIARY COMMITTEE ROLE AFTER GRAHAM HUG

Not everyone was impressed with the show of civility from both sides, however. Left-wing group Demand Justice, which reflexively opposes all Trump judicial nominees with apocalyptic rhetoric, called on Feinstein to step down from her post as Judiciary Committee ranking member over her hug of Graham. 

"It's time for Sen. Feinstein to step down from her leadership position on the Senate Judiciary Committee. If she won't, her colleagues need to intervene," the group said in a statement. "She has undercut Democrats' position at every step of this process, from undermining calls for filibuster and Court reform straight through to thanking Republicans form the most egregious partisan power grab in the modern history of the Supreme Court."

Justice Democrats, the group that backs primary challenges to Democrat incumbents and helped Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., make it to Congress in 2018, also weighed in. "Dianne Feinstein must step down," it said, quote-tweeting a post by Demand Justice Executive Director Brian Fallon that said the same thing.

But despite consternation from the left wing of the Democratic Party, and barring any post-hearing developments -- the Kavanaugh sexual assault accusations came out after his first time before the Senate panel, leading to yet more hearings -- the status quo was not changed and Republicans appear to have the votes to get Barrett's confirmation across the finish line before the month is out. 

"I think that the hearings went well for Judge Barrett. When she answered questions, her responses were generally clear and articulate and she displayed a broad command of constitutional law and statutory interpretation," said Carl Tobias, a professor and judicial selection expert at the University of Richmond School of Law. "Moreover she seemed respectful of senators, even when they asked questions that may have been out of bounds or seemed to be grandstanding or trying to profit politically from the hearings."

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Tobias added: "In short, Barrett did what she needed to do, and the panel is likely to have a 12-10 party-line vote."

Graham scheduled the committee vote on Barrett for 1 p.m. on Oct. 22, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he will introduce Barrett's nomination on the Senate floor the following day, before confirming her within the next three or four days, during which senators will have time to debate on the floor. 

This would be consistent with Graham's prediction on "Sunday Morning Futures" ahead of the hearings that Barrett will be confirmed, "no later than Tuesday, a week before the election." That would be Oct. 27. 

Fox News' Marisa Schultz, Ronn Blitzer, Chad Pergram and Jason Donner contributed to this report. 

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