Chris Matthews Thinks Sen. Sessions' Criticism of Kagan Was a 'Brutal Assault'

MSNBC's Chris Matthews framed Sen. Jeff Sessions' criticism of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan as a "brutal assault," during MSNBC's live coverage of the Senate hearing Monday afternoon.

"It's a brutal assault on this nomination," Matthews complained about the Alabama Republican's remarks.

Matthews also seemed to cast Sessions as an unsophisticated country bumpkin challenging Kagan's prestigious Ivy League background.

"It's a strong cultural shot at her, and she does represent, if you will, academic excellence of the highest degree, coming from the best schools, dean of Harvard Law," Matthews crooned. "It's hard to get above that, to a person out in the country, from Alabama, like Jeff Sessions represents. That is probably a pretty rich target."

He accused Sessions of describing Kagan as pro-terrorist and tried to get liberal Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to say that Sessions' "assault" would whip up a storm.

"You know, back not too many years ago, some Republicans paid a heavy price for being tough with Anita Hill when she came to testify in the Clarence Thomas hearings," Matthews insisted. Have we gotten past that era of sensitivity about a bunch of guys going after a single woman here, just bashing her?"

"Can these guys like Jeff Sessions just go at her like this without any fear of rebuke?" Matthews later asked.

Durbin tempered the debate by saying that, although he might not agree with Sessions, his colleague was doing his job in raising issues with Kagan.

"I think it's fine," Durbin replied. "Jeff has raised issues, and that's important. I may disagree with the issues. But it is not personal. I don't see it reaching the level that would cause that kind of a backlash."

The transcript of the two segments, which aired at 12:53 p.m. and 1:07 p.m. EDT, respectively, are as follows:

MSNBC

June 28, 2010

12:53 p.m. EDT

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Andrea Mitchell, I've got to get your reaction. Very tough opening statement by Jeff Sessions.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Well, he has laid out the Republican line against her. And it was tough, and he is the ranking Republican. He said earlier today that he would not even rule out a filibuster, which has never happened, as Ron Brownstein pointed out earlier, when the same party controlled the Senate in a Supreme Court case. So this is a very tough - particularly on the issue of the military, on the terror law - he went through all of the top talking points from the Republicans. And she's going to have a tough time defending that.

MATTHEWS: (Garbled) ...she's anti-military, pro-terrorist, pro-illegal immigrant, and a socialist. It's pretty tough. And by the way, I'll go back to it - maybe an infelicitous reference, but it is a voodoo doll - she is being used as Barack Obama in that chair-

EUGENE ROBINSON, Washington POst: This is throwing stuff against the wall, seeing -

(Crosstalk)

- trying to create an atmosphere and an image that goes beyond her that also envelops the President and the whole administration. She's trying to say this is an elite, Ivy League, out-of-touch -

MATTHEWS: Well, it's a strong cultural shot at her, and she does represent, if you will, academic excellence of the highest degree, coming from the best schools, dean of Harvard Law, it's hard to get above that. To a person out in the country, from Alabama, like Jeff Sessions represents, that is probably a pretty rich target.

# # #

MSNBC

ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS

June 28, 2010

1:07 p.m. EDT

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Now take a look at, what I think so far has been the toughest attack on this nomination. This is Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican. He is from Alabama. He was especially tough, as I said, in his opening statements. Let's look at a montage of his toughest shots at the nominee.

(Clip)

Sen. JEFF SESSIONS (R-Ala.): Ms. Kagan has less real legal experience of any nominee in at least 50 years, and it's not just that the nominee has not been a judge. She has barely practiced law, and not with the intensity and duration from which I think a real legal understanding occurs.

Her actions punished the military, and demeaned our soldiers as they were courageously fighting for our country in two wars overseas.

Ms. Kagan has associated herself with well-known activist judges who have used their power to re-define the meaning of words of our Constitution and laws in ways that, not surprisingly, have the result of advancing that judge's preferred social policies and agendas.

(End Clip)

MATTHEWS: Joining us right now is Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois. He's the Senate Majority Whip. Senator Durbin, if you listen to Jeff Sessions, your colleague, it's a brutal assault on this nomination. She's pro-terrorist in a sense, she's anti-military, she's a socialist, she's for expansion of the government. He just about hit her on every cultural, political, ideological issue you can, and basically said he is definitely voting against her. He may lead a filibuster, based on his tone.

Sen. DICK DURBIN (D-Ill.): I can just tell you, my Alabama colleague did not surprise me. He dismissed Elena Kagan out of hand and didn't really get into the whole question of her role in Supreme Court. And then came the bill of particulars for the election in November. This was the Republican National committee bill of particulars, all of the things they want to accuse the Obama administration of. Socialism, secular humanism, you name it, went through the long litany. You get an idea of what this hearing is going to be all about.

MATTHEWS: Well, do you think it's really a hearing or is it something else? Is this going to be like a political convention on the right?

Sen. DURBIN: Well I'm afraid it looks, from Senator Session's statement, that there are going to be political overtones. And it's not surprising, Chris, let's be honest. If the shoe were on the other foot, and a nominee came along, we would be making points on our side of the aisle, too. But in fairness to Elena Kagan, At the end of the day, you have to look at what she has done, how she's been cleared by this committee to be Solicitor General of the United States, her own achievements, and where she stands. 

MATTHEWS: You know, back not too many years ago, some Republicans paid a heavy price for being tough with Anita Hill when she came to testify in the Clarence Thomas hearings. Have we gotten past that era of sensitivity about a bunch of guys going after a single woman here just bashing her?

Sen. DURBIN: Well I think so. But I tell you, the record shows -

MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. You think we have gotten past we're that insensitive? Can these guys like Jeff Sessions just go at her like this without any fear of rebuke?

Sem. DURBIN: I think it's fine. Jeff has raised issues, and that's important. I may disagree with the issues. But it is not personal. I don't see it reaching the level that would cause that kind of a backlash. And I think we're learning. Just remember, this is our fourth time in history to entertain a woman as a Supreme Court justice - four times, out of 111, this is the fourth. And I think there were lessons learned in the past. We do know that women nominees tend to get tougher questions. Think of what Sonia Sotomayor went through over one phrase, "Wise Latina." You would think that the woman had declared that she was a traitor, treason on the United States. And instead they made that one phrase the focal point, they just went overboard on it.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014