After an explosive start to Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing Tuesday, Day Two began with an easy-to-miss, but notable change: The number of seats for the public were reduced by half, from 48 to 24. The committee restored the full 48 seats six hours later, following press inquiries. It is not clear what brought on the change.
The chair vacillation came after a combative first day Tuesday, when 61 protesters using those seats interrupted the hearing and were removed by Capitol Police. On Wednesday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee reassigned two rows of seats designated for the public to “Senate staff.” After the change, many of the seats remained empty throughout the day.
Taylor Foy, a spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the PBS NewsHour that the change was made to ensure Senate staff would be able to attend. But, he said, the committee planned to increase public seating again.
“Given that the chairs reserved for press haven’t been filled today,” Foy wrote, “we will allow staff to sit in those seats to allow for greater public access.”
Most reporters covering the hearing sit at tables in the middle of the hearing room, with space for laptops. A row of standalone seats for journalists has been largely unused.
After 3 p.m. Eastern, the committee returned to the broader seating arrangement for the public, reopening the full 48 seats at times.
With public allowed back in the room, protesters are back as well (the seem to make up most of the public here).
27: "Senators in name of our democracy, I ask you to halt these hearings."
28: "Vote no! Vote no!"
— Lisa Desjardins (@LisaDNews) September 5, 2018
Much like the day before,dozens of protesters interrupted Wednesday’s session. Most boomed out one or two sentences before police asked them or forced them to leave.
“I’m a veteran and a health care voter,” shouted one man early in the day.
“There are more of us than there are of you,” another voice rang out, “and we demand justice.”
“Stop the cover up,” yelled another woman.
A few protesters chanted, repeating phrases including, “Our bodies, our choice!”, “Stop Kavanaugh now!”, “Yes means death!” and “No Trump puppet!” Some had legal themes. “We the people dissent,” screamed out a woman.
The shortest came from one man who shouted simply: “The Constitution! The Constitution!”
Protests erupted scattershot throughout the hearing, with the exception of one 45-minute period of silence in the morning, when police stopped allowing any member of the public inside.
Foy indicated the freeze on public attendance may have been a delay due to other logistical concerns.
Members of the public have been allowed to watch the hearing in 20-minute intervals, with police escorting rotating groups in and out of the room.
The limitations on public viewing of the hearing Wednesday came amid a heavy, well-organized security effort inside and outside the committee room. Those entering, whether members of the public or Senate staff had to pass through five different ID or other police checks on the way to the hearing. Member of the public must first wait in line outside the building to go through an initial screening, then they are escorted in small groups to a holding area outside the committee room itself.
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