On Thursday, the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will sit across from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who recently accused him of sexual assault in high school, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, as they give testimony in one of the most high-profile televised hearings in history.
Only one senator in the group is publicly undecided on Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Three were in the chamber when Anita Hill testified. At least two of them are making moves toward running for president. Another two are retiring, and five others are seeking reelection in six weeks — with one in a dead heat. And here’s a fun fact: Neither the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman nor its ranking member, a Democrat, are lawyers.
Yet as America hears Thursday morning from Kavanaugh and Ford, their testimony also marks a rare moment when senators are in the spotlight and asking questions before a live television audience.
Here is key background on some of the senators on the committee:
Jeff Flake, Republican, Arizona
Flake is among about eight senators who are undecided on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and he’s the sole undecided vote among the Judiciary Committee’s 21 members.
Flake, who is not a fan of Trump on most days, is not seeking reelection. And on Monday, Flake is scheduled to make a second trip to New Hampshire — a state that kicks off the presidential primary process. If he is thinking about a primary challenge to Trump, he could use the national airtime to have a breakout moment.
One note of caution: While Flake’s undecided colleagues consider what Kavanaugh’s nomination might mean for abortion rights or how the assault accusations will play back home, the Arizonan, at least publicly, is most concerned with the high court nominee’s take on presidential power.
Chuck Grassley, Republican, Iowa
America will get to see a lot of Grassley on Thursday because as chairman, he will run the proceedings. Grassley never went to law school; the 85-year-old has been in the US Senate since 1981.
In his negotiations with Ford so far, Grassley has clearly tried to appear reasonable: While he set hard deadlines and even threatened to hold a committee vote Monday, he eventually relented and agreed to a Thursday hearing days later.
Dianne Feinstein, Democrat, California
She’s the reason this hearing is happening. Feinstein became aware of Ford’s accusation months ago after Ford contacted her congresswoman in Silicon Valley. Ford requested confidentiality, but following reports that Feinstein had evidence of an unnamed person accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Ford went public with her accusation in an interview with the Washington Post.
Senate Republicans are mindful that they cannot attack publicly a woman who says she is a sexual assault survivor. Instead, they have aimed their frustration at Feinstein, the committee’s top Democrat, who Republicans say created a situation that is unfair to both Ford and Kavanaugh. If Republicans do offer heated language Thursday, it will most likely be directed at this longtime California pol, who — like her GOP counterpart, Grassley — never attended law school.
Ted Cruz, Republican, Texas
Many viewers will recognize Cruz from his runner-up finish in the 2016 Republican presidential contest. Those were the days when Cruz raised buckets of money and it appeared that as long as he was a conservative Republican he could keep getting reelected in a deep-red state like Texas.
But today it is a different story: Cruz is now in a too-close-to-call contest against US Representative Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat. Cruz is supporting Kavanaugh and likes to grab the limelight, but Thursday he will have to balance the risks of asking questions that may be too politically toxic for an election in six weeks.
Cory Booker, Democrat, New Jersey, and Kamala Harris, Democrat, California
Booker and Harris generated a lot of headlines in the original Kavanaugh hearings because, well, as each ponders a run for president in 2020, they are trying to get headlines.
With that in mind, when Booker or Harris are on television, it might be a time to pay attention because they will probably have something up their sleeve.
Also of note: Booker makes his first trip to Iowa next week.
James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics:http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp