As the Senate Judiciary Committee hears testimony from Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh about allegations of sexual assault, AP journalists around the country are talking to Americans about politics, gender, culture and the Supreme Court. Here is some of what they’re hearing:
AGONIZING TO WATCH:
For Elizabeth Jacobson, listening to Ford’s testimony was emotionally exhausting. “To watch someone have to recount something that traumatic, I feel very on edge for her,” said Jacobson, 24, of Minneapolis.
Jacobson, a first-year law student at Mitchell Hamline School of Law who identifies as a Democrat, watched the hearing with colleagues in a classroom. She said she found the opening by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley frustrating, adding, “He didn’t uphold his duty to make sure that it was a very fair and neutral introduction.”
Jacobson said she was nervous before the hearing started.
“It could be a really important step forward — or it could be a very large wall in some ways, another hurdle, another obstacle,” she said. When asked what she would like to see in the hearing, she cited “respect,” saying that challenging Ford’s credibility could discourage others from coming forward.
One of Jacobson’s close friends was sexually assaulted in high school, an experience the friend said would scar her for life. In that context, Jacobson said, “something that you do in high school can stick with someone else for the rest of their lives, and in some ways you should be held accountable for the decisions you made.”
TRYING TO KEEP AN OPEN MIND:
Republic strategist Jennifer Jacobs, watching the hearing from her home in San Diego, said she found herself struck by what she deemed Ford’s sincerity. But she remained uncertain as to whether it was “absolutely” Kavanaugh who committed the alleged assault.
“I think her sincerity is definitely playing heavy on my mind and my heart,” Jacobs said, adding that she believed “something happened to her in her past that has caused her a lot of pain. I don’t think that can be disputed.”
“The last thing I want to do is take away from the pain a woman has,” Jacobs said. “I’m still on the fence about, do I believe that this was absolutely this person.”
She added: “I am doing my best, 100 percent, to keep an open mind.”
When Brandi Geoit makes calls and knocks on doors of prospective voters as part of her campaign for a seat on the Pasco County Commission in Florida, she hears familiar refrains about Kavanaugh.
“How can they do this to this poor man?” she says Republicans ask. And Democrats tell her, “I can’t believe that someone would be OK with a man having allegations of sexual assault sitting on the Supreme Court.”
The 42-year-old plans to watch Thursday’s hearing in between continuing to reach out to prospective voters.
Geoit is a Democrat and isn’t sure there’s anything Kavanaugh can say that would sway her from believing the women who have come forward against him.
“It’s not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s an issue of how we treat women in the United States,” says Geoit, who adds that she has dealt with unwelcome advances from men on the trail.
Though many see parallels with Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings, the Kavanaugh hearing is taking place in a changed cultural landscape, says Jill Abramson, co-author of “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas.”
“What’s different now is that in 1991 much of the country did not even know the concept of sexual harassment,” Abramson said in an interview. “The sexual misconduct of men was not openly discussed except in rare situations.”
That’s obviously changed. #MeToo has claimed many powerful men in almost every industry, beginning with former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, movie producer Harvey Weinstein and so many others.
Of Ford, Abramson says: “If the all-male Republican side treats her as a liar and attacks her character, it could discourage other women from coming forward. It could also create a well of anger in the country, as it did in 1991. Anita Hill was asked to tell her story and was disrespected.”