California Junior Senator Kamala Harris has made a name for herself—and attracted some preliminary presidential buzz—by leading the fight against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Like a lot of Democratic Senators, Harris charges that Judge Kavanagh has not been completely forthright about his opinions, especially in the realm of women’s reproductive freedom.
But a couple high-profile non-partisan websites accused Sen. Harris herself of dishonesty.
On Friday, Sept 7, Sen. Harris tweeted to her half a million followers a stinging indictment of the nominee, saying that the words he chose in comments he made regarding “abortion-inducing drugs” were ” a dog whistle for going after birth control.” It was accompanied by a video she had produced that quoted Judge Kavanaugh saying “filling out the form would make them complicit in the provision of the abortion-inducing drugs that they were—as a religious matter, objected to.”
Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control. He was nominated for the purpose of taking away a woman’s constitutionally protected right to make her own health care decisions. Make no mistake – this is about punishing women. pic.twitter.com/zkBjXzIvQI
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) September 7, 2018
The problem is that she edited two key words out of the sentence. What Kavanaugh had actually said was “they said filling out the form would make them complicit…” He was referring to the fact that the plaintiffs in the case—a group of Catholic hospitals and universities and priests—believed that the ACA unfairly burdened them by requiring a special form. Whether one agrees with that point or not, it’s clear that Kavanaugh was expressing someone else’s belief, not his own. By omitting that phrase, Sen. Harris made it seem as though Kavanaugh himself was opining on the complicity of filling out the form.
Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” ran a detailed analysis of the episode and awarded it “Four Pinocchios,” its most serious assessment of untruthfulness. The patron saint of getting it right, Glenn Kessler, made a special point of criticizing the removal of the two key words and concluded “She earns Four Pinocchios — and her fellow Democrats should drop this talking point.”
Over at PolitiFact, the Poynter Institute’s freestanding referee says, “Harris’ tweet takes Kavanaugh’s statement out of context.” In its summation ruling, it concludes, “The video failed to include a crucial qualifier: ‘They said.'” The site rules Harris’ take on the matter “false”
Coming to Harris’ defense, her comms director Lily Adams makes the point that “In his full answer, he uses the term [abortion-inducing drugs] uncritically. … He doesn’t say ‘so-called,’ ‘I don’t agree with it,’ there’s no caveat that he gives that he does not agree with the term.” Her point is that referring to birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs” provides a meaningful insight into the nominee’s extreme views on the subject, regardless of how he was quoted in the Harris video.
That may be. But with Democrats sure to make Trump’s truthfulness a cornerstone of their 2020 strategy, one would expect those hoping to be his opponent to be extra cautious about their own veracity. A high-profile “False” and “Four Pinocchios” seems like an unforced error by a senator who was doing just fine challenging the nominee without resorting to creative editing.