Vice President Pence had just presided over the Senate’s confirmation vote of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. An angry swarm of demonstrators packed the Capitol lawn, protesting the vote.
Pence has broken nine Senate ties as vice president. But on Saturday afternoon, Pence’s services wouldn’t be required to melt a Senate stalemate. The Senate had all settled the Kavanaugh vote the night before: 50 yeas. 48 nays. One senator voting “present.” One absence.
Saturday was a seminal day for the Trump administration. Kavanaugh’s confirmation may prove to be the most enduring legacy of the Trump presidency: tipping the Supreme Court to the right for perhaps a generation.
Anti-Kavanaugh demonstrators teamed outside the Capitol all day long. A pulse of humanity surged past U.S. Capitol Police at one point, flooding the center stairs below the Dome on the East Front. They chanted and screamed and waved placards until USCP officers finally removed the protesters, lining them up for arrest on the Capitol plaza. USCP then erected metal barricades around the plaza, pushing the protesters onto the grassy ellipses on either side of the Capitol.
Still, the din of acrimony outside occasionally pierced the Capitol’s thick marble, quarried in Massachusetts and Georgia.
The vice president’s security detail and a wall of U.S. Capitol Police officers guided Pence out of the chamber and through the Senate Reception Room. Pence strode past the sextet of elevators which line the corridor near a set of double doors which lead onto the Senate steps.
Someone flung open the double doors and the cacophony of demonstrators crushed together on the plaza spilled into the Capitol.
“Shame! Shame! Shame!” incanted the crowd in unison, an invisible metronome governing the cadence.
Pence reached the double doors and stopped. The demonstrators spotted the vice president standing in the doorjamb at the top of the Senate steps and screeched, their decibel level now spiking. Pence was indecisive for a moment, unsure what to do as he surveyed the crowd below.
“You can go out another way,” suggested Deputy Senate Sergeant at Arms Jim Morhard to Pence.
Someone muttered something about the Senate Carriage Entrance, the protected shaft that burrows beneath the Senate steps on the Capitol plaza. It’s called the Carriage Entrance because that’s where carriages used to pull up to drop off Capitol visitors. They use the Carriage Entrance today to ferry VIP’s like Pence to the Capitol and out of public view under the steps.
Pence wheeled around to retrace his course past the elevators. The double doors slammed shut, muffling the clamor outside.
Police radios crackled. The vice president would depart elsewhere. The entourage of aides, Secret Service Agents and officers reversed themselves, following the leader.
Pence walked 10 paces … and halted again.
“Let’s do it,” Pence said.
And with that, the VP pivoted, striding briskly back toward the double doors. They flew open and the sound of the tumult below again gushed into the Capitol.
Pence defiantly marched down the Senate steps. The sight of Pence coming fueled a fresh chorus of invective from the assemblage.
Halfway down the stairs, the jeers and catcalls directed at Pence reached a fevered pitch.
Unfazed, Pence raised his right hand and waved to the crowd. That sparked even louder taunts. Demonstrators pressed against the steel fencing as Secret Service agents pulled the motorcade around from the Carriage Entrance to pick up the vice president.
As protests increased around the Kavanaugh confirmation process, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Republicans “weren’t going to be intimidated by the mob.” The Kentucky Republican decried protesters who accosted senators in elevators and criticized “these people rampaging through the halls.”
After all, it was McConnell who promised a few weeks ago that the Senate would “plow right through” and confirm Kavanaugh.
The Kavanaugh nomination was short of the necessary votes for confirmation just a few days ago. President Trump initially held his Twitter in check about the allegations leveled by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Kavanaugh offered a milquetoast defense of himself, panned by even his supporters, during a Fox News interview.
And then things changed.
Kavanaugh went on offense. He delivered a blistering attack on the process during his second hearing. Kavanaugh claimed some of the attacks directed at him were “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” He excoriated senators from the witness table, even challenging Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the daughter of an alcoholic father, if she had ever blacked out from drinking.
Kavanaugh later apologized to Klobuchar for that crack.
Trump dialed things up, too. The president previously used uncharacteristically measured language when discussing Ford’s accusations. But during a speech last week in Mississippi, Trump held nothing back.
“I don’t know! I don’t know!” Mr. Trump taunted Ford. “What neighborhood was it in? I don't know. Where's the house? I don't know. Upstairs, downstairs. Where was it? I don't know. But I had one beer. That's the only thing I remember.”
Days later, the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh.
It may not have been nice. It may not have been considerate. It lacked politesse. But like it or not, Kavanaugh’s anger and the president’s taunting of Ford helped “plow” the nomination across the finish line. The sympathetic and gentle approach didn’t work. So the Trump administration resorted to what it does best: bare-knuckle politics.
For good or ill, one could distill the Kavanaugh confirmation into Pence’s decision to stride down the steps. Sure. It would have been easy to exit through the protected Carriage Entrance. It would have been easy for the president and McConnell to have second thoughts about the fitness of Kavanaugh and ask him to withdraw. It would have been easy for Kavanaugh himself to drop out.
But that’s not how Kavanaugh’s confirmation went down.
Mike Pence had two choices on Saturday. He could exit the Capitol via the security of the Carriage Entrance – or breeze right down the Senate steps and stare down the vocal horde hectoring him below.
After a moment of hesitation, the vice president chose the latter.
Republicans won this round. Democrats may exact revenge in the midterm elections.
But Pence’s Capitol exit exemplifies how the Trump administration plowed through to get Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court.
Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.