In their opening statements at a public hearing Thursday, Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein exchanged barbs about the politics and process surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Both committee leaders spoke as psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, 51, who accused 53-year-old Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were teenagers, sat silently before them, waiting to offer her first publicly spoken words about her claim.
But while Grassley focused on his issues with Feinstein's conduct in the lead-up to Ford's allegations being revealed, Feinstein took a different route by commenting more broadly on sexual misconduct in the U.S.
Grassley, 85, began by decrying the conflagration of partisanship that has surrounded Kavanaugh's nomination process in the wake of the allegations, calling it a "poor reflection on the state of civility in our democracy."
"I want to apologize to you both for the way you've been treated," Grassley said to Ford and Kavanaugh, who had agreed to listen to Ford's testimony in another room. Ford and Kavanaugh have both alleged that they have received death threats and harassment.
Grassley's statement then pivoted toward Feinstein, 85, whom he criticized for her timing after receiving Ford's initial letter detailing her allegations against Kavanaugh.
Ford sent a letter to a Democratic representative alleging that a visibly drunk Kavanaugh in the early 1980s had held her down on a bed, covered her mouth with his hand and tried to undress her. That California representative, Anna Eshoo, referred the letter to Feinstein in late July.
Kavanaugh has flatly denied Ford's allegation, along with two allegations of sexual misconduct from other women who have come forward in September.
But the allegations did not surface publicly until mid-September, after Kavanaugh was thought to have finished his Senate judicial nomination hearings.
"The ranking member took no action," Grassley said, adding that she didn't ask Kavanaugh about the allegations when she met with him privately in August.
Feinstein snapped back when she began her opening statement. "Yes, I did receive a letter from Dr. Ford," who had asked in the letter to remain anonymous and later reiterated her desire to keep the allegation confidential, Feinstein said.
"I think, as I make my remarks, perhaps you'll see why," Feinstein said, "because how women are treated in the United States with this kind of concern is really wanting a lot of reform."
Feinstein recounted sexual assault statistics and provided anecdotes about other women who waited years before coming forward with assault allegations. She also brought up Anita Hill, who had testified in 1991 that then-nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. Thomas was eventually confirmed to the Supreme Court.
After returning to criticisms of the Republican majority, Feinstein concluded: "This is not a trial of Dr. Ford; it's a job interview for Judge Kavanaugh. Is Brett Kavanaugh who we want on the most prestigious court in our country?"