WASHINGTON ― Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) on Thursday tried to smear one of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees by repeatedly calling her a Marxist, an accusation rooted in nothing other than this nominee being a Democrat.
But his effort backfired spectacularly when the Louisiana Republican was reminded that he, too, used to be a Democrat.
“Are you still a Marxist?” Kennedy asked Melissa DuBose, Biden’s nominee for a U.S. district court in Rhode Island. It was his very first question in DuBose’s nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he gave zero context.
“I am not nor have I ever been a Marxist,” replied DuBose, who is now a state district judge.
They went back and forth. Kennedy suggested she was lying under oath about being a secret Marxist, citing an interview she did in 2000 when she was working at a coffee shop and said she was “in my Marxist phase.”
DuBose replied that she was interviewed 24 years ago by an undergraduate student who wanted to become a teacher, and DuBose, who was then teaching civics and history in Providence’s public schools, told her she was considering teaching a course on political theory. “I immersed myself in a ton of political theory,” she said, citing the works of philosophers Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and, yes, Karl Marx.
DuBose also said she didn’t know the interview had been published, which is why she didn’t turn it in to the committee.
Kennedy acted as if she hadn’t said any of that.
“My question is real simple,” he said. “Are you still a Marxist?”
“I am not a Marxist,” DuBose said again, as Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) made the same allegation. “I do not espouse Marxist theory or ideology. I never have, I never will. I’m a very proud Democrat.”
And then Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) reminded Kennedy that even if it were true that DuBose had been in a “Marxist phase,” people sometimes take new positions on issues over time. Even him.
“This was many, many, many, many, many years ago,” Whitehouse said of DuBose’s interview. “Perhaps during the time when my colleague Sen. Kennedy was a Democrat, showing that people can change their views, even if it were true that you were in a Marxist phase.”
Whitehouse smiled. Laughs were audible in the room. Kennedy was furious.
“I’ve never been a Marxist!” he shouted. “I’ve never been a Marxist! And I’ve never admitted I was a Marxist and then not turned a document over to this committee!”
Whitehouse was right about Kennedy’s long career as a Democrat, though. He unsuccessfully ran for state attorney general in 1991, as a Democrat, and was elected state treasurer in 1999. Still a Democrat, he was reelected to that position in 2003 and unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2004. He became a Republican in 2007 and was reelected three more times as state treasurer. He ran for U.S. Senate again in 2008 and lost but ultimately won his current seat in 2016.
The hearing got a bit awkward after Kennedy’s outburst, so Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tried to cut the tension before moving on.
“Let’s agree on the following,” Graham said with a weak laugh. “A Louisiana Democrat is probably not a Marxist.”
“I am not a Marxist!” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) shouted as he tried to baselessly accuse one of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees of being a Marxist.
The reality, though, is that Republicans have spent years baselessly accusing Biden’s nominees of secretly being Marxists or communists.
They don’t listen when these nominees insist they are not. The idea is that because they are Democratic appointees, there must be some Marxist ideology in there somewhere, so why not bring back a dose of McCarthyism to suggest they’re not loyal to American democracy.
“Are you a Marxist?” Blackburn abruptly asked Oregon district court nominee Mustafa Kasubhai in an October hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“No, senator,” Kasubhai said. “I have not praised Marxist ideas and I would disavow any other system than that would be supported by our U.S. Constitution and our laws.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he had evidence that Kasubhai was secretly a Marxist: a corny poem that he wrote 30 years ago, titled “Sensualized Property Theory.”
“Intimate knowing, the lovers kissed, familiar and ever-exciting, passionate transcendence beyond the physical exhilaration lies a burning light and our limbs are hearts. Floating, flying, falling in every direction, amorphous and wonderful, time-stretching, space-curving, exquisitely explosive eros, and yet, I timidly tremble every time,” Cruz read aloud to the committee.
“What the hell does that mean?” the Texas senator demanded to know.
“The poetry was definitely not good,” Kasubhai said, horrified in the way that any English major would be if a decades-old poem was read aloud in a Senate hearing.
I’ve never been a Marxist!Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, former Democrat turned Republican
Kennedy has been fine with throwing around these kinds of accusations, too.
“I don’t know whether to call you professor or comrade,” Kennedy told Saule Omarova in a particularly offensive November 2021 hearing. Omarova, who was Biden’s pick for a key banking regulator job, was born in the Soviet Union and came to the United States in 1991.
“I am not a communist,” she said. “I do not subscribe to that ideology. I could not choose where I was born.” Omarova eventually withdrew her nomination amid bipartisan criticisms.
A Kennedy spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on whether Marxist ideologies ever resonated with the Louisiana senator when he was a Democrat.