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Senator Josh Hawley and his wife have had a pretty busy 48 hours.
On Tuesday, during a hearing for the Senate Judiciary Committee on abortion, the Missouri Senator had an exchange with Khiara Bridges, a professor of law at University of California Berkeley School of Law who specializes in reproductive health. At one point, the Missouri Senator highlighted the professor’s use of the term “people with a capacity for pregnancy”, before asking: “Would that be women?”
In response, Bridges said that many cisgender women can get pregnant and that some could not, but that transgender and nonbinary people could also get pregnant. After a terse exchange, Bridges then said she believed Hawley’s “line of questioning” was transphobic, and explained to him that “it opens trans people to violence by not recognizing them.”
After more back-and-forth, she asked whether he believed transgender people existed, to which he answered incredulously: “Is this how you run your classroom? Are students allowed to question you?”
The video went viral. Anyone who follows liberal social media accounts likely saw the clip of the exchange, retweeted it, or cheered Bridges on. And indeed, many Democratic voters likely felt a catharsis seeing a Black woman push back against Hawley, especially after his aggressive questioning of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings earlier this year. Here was Hawley, a young white male lawyer, grilling an accomplished Black female scholar and getting his comeuppance.
But Hawley also saw it as an opportunity, because it played into social conservative hands. Here was a professor from Berkeley with a piercing between her nostrils talking about transgender people getting pregnant, and a conservative hardliner responding in kind.
The Missouri Senator followed up the contretemps with a fundraising email saying that the exchange “really just exposes the sad reality that delusion has a stranglehold on the Democrat Party”.
And then, on Wednesday, Hawley’s wife Erin testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and had an exchange of her own with progressive representative Ayanna Pressley. When the Massachusetts Democrat raised the question of what will happen to women needing to terminate ectopic pregnancies, Erin Hawley, a conservative lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom – a legal advocacy organization backing socially conservative causes – answered: “With respect, ma’am, that’s not an abortion.”
In response, Pressley was blunt: “I asked you the question. You answered. And I am now providing you with accurate information from medical experts.” The congresswoman’s team mailed out video and transcript of the exchange, likely showing that she and other liberals saw it as a win. But while Pressley and other progressive Democrats may believe they scored a moral victory, Hawley has an actual victory under her belt, since she was one of the lawyers that helped the state of Mississippi in Dobbs v Jackson – the Supreme Court case that ultimately saw Roe v Wade overturned.
“Proud of the work she did on that and, you know, she can speak better than I can as to the merits of that decision and her work on it,” Josh Hawley said of his wife to your reporter. “I think it’s great. She’s a smart one. I’d like that on record.”
In many ways, the Hawleys were made for this moment. Both of them are Yale Law School graduates, and they met as clerks for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Josh Hawley, for his part, was one of the lawyers who was involved in the Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores Inc case, in which the conservative-dominated court ruled that for-profit companies could deny their employees healthcare plans covering contraception on the grounds of religious freedom.
After years of being groomed in the halls of conservative legal intelligentsia, the Hawleys now have a chance to celebrate a political victory that the right has been pursuing since before they were born.
That said, Josh Hawley can’t win all of his battles. He endorsed Representative Vicky Hartzler to replace his Missouri colleague Roy Blunt, only for former president Trump to declare on Truth Social that he would not endorse her – though without saying who he would endorse. Hawley was somewhat sanguine about the matter, saying Hartzler had spoken with Trump a few times, “so I hope she’d change his mind. We’ve got a number of weeks left.”
When asked whether he thought Trump would endorse former governor Eric Greitens, a longtime enemy of Hawley’s whom the senator has said should be jailed after allegations of domestic abuse, Hawley held back. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think he’s made his mind up for who he’d be endorsing.”