That produced a chuckle from Barrett, but Sasse’s comments soon took a sharp turn, although not at the judge’s expense.
“I’d like to talk about the Houston Astros, who are miserable cheaters,” Sasse said.
After pointing out that both Texas senators, John Cornyn (R) and Ted Cruz (R), also sit on the committee and were present at the hearing, Sasse asserted, “I think all baseball fans know that the Houston Astros cheat.
“They steal signs. They bang on cans,” he continued. “They’ve done a whole bunch of miserable things, historically, and they deserve to be punished probably more than they have been.”
Sasse was referring to the results of an investigation made public in January by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who detailed an illegal sign-stealing scheme carried out by Astros players in 2017 — when they capped their season with a World Series title — and into the 2018 season. Manfred issued punishments to the Astros organization and specifically to manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, who were quickly fired, but no players were punished.
Before Sasse got too much further into his denigration of the Astros, who beat the Tampa Bay Rays later that day to avoid a four-game sweep in the American League Championship Series, Cornyn jumped in on behalf of his state’s contender to appear in this year’s World Series.
“Thank goodness the First Amendment protects that right for him to express that erroneous opinion,” he said of Sasse.
“If you want to defend cheating, that is certainly the prerogative of the senior senator,” Sasse responded with a smile. He then referred to Cruz in saying, “And the junior senator from Texas now rushes into the room to do some homerism.”
“It was going so well,” interjected Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who was running the hearing as chairman of the committee.
Sasse carried on and got closer to the real point he wanted to make about attempts by Democratic senators, who don’t have the votes to stop the confirmation, to put Barrett on the spot with questions about rulings she might make that could affect issues such as abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act.
Sasse noted that if the Astros lost Wednesday, they would be done.
“That leads people to feel desperate at times,” he continued. “There are times when you have a game that’s your elimination game — you can imagine people wanting to sort of reconsider anything they can reconsider. The ends might justify the means.
“And you can imagine that the Houston Astros, who have cheated in lots of ways in the past with sign-stealing, might try to go to the umpire and try to persuade somebody to expand the strike zone just for Houston, in the game tonight.”
“That would obviously be inappropriate right? We can’t have two sets of rules,” Sasse said to Barrett, who responded in the affirmative.
“I think that an umpire is supposed to apply rules fairly to both teams,” Sasse said. “I think some of what we’ve seen in the questions over the last three days are trying to get an umpire to commit to a different set of rules for different teams.”
Toward the end of his time, Sasse returned to the baseball metaphor.
“It is not a role to right all wrongs in society, it is not a role to be a policy advocate, and I think you have comported yourself extraordinarily well over the last three days,” Sasse said, “as you’ve been repeatedly asked to be an umpire who prejudges certain cases, and it isn’t your job to do that until the reactive moment when you’re actually on the court.”
That might have been the end of the Astros talk as Graham began to move the proceedings along. But Cruz made it clear he was not quite ready to let it pass without having his say.
Cruz said he was “tempted to make a parliamentary inquiry” about a possible rule violation committed by Sasse with his “unjustified broadside.”
“But I decided not to when I came to the realization that Nebraska lacks a professional baseball team and, at times, doesn’t always have a winning football team, either,” said Cruz, as Sasse smiled. “So I view it more as a plea for help than a substantive point, and I will say that the remainder of the senator from Nebraska’s questions and exchange with Judge Barrett I thought was excellent and wonderful civic education for all Americans.
“The scurrilous lies about the Astros I think should be stricken from the record and forgotten by all.”
Sasse then told Graham that he would later be asking for unanimous consent to submit for the record “a little bit of historical information” about the Astros.
“Will you include a photograph of the World Series trophy?” Cruz asked.
“I think there’s an asterisk hanging over the trophy,” replied Sasse.