WASHINGTON — The voices carried everywhere, quavering but firm.
They cut through the spitting mist, the words broadcast on laptops and cellphones, as protesters in black outside the Capitol shouted “Kava-NO” at counterprotesters insisting that women can lie just as well as men.
They ricocheted through the bars — their screens fixed, unusually, on a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing — and from the executive television set of the First Viewer, who knew enough to keep his twittering fingers to himself at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, until dusk anyway.
And they pierced most through the overstuffed quarters of Room 226 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building — his delivery so loud and insistent at times that listeners winced at the volume; hers occasionally so staccato that strands of her hair sailed away from her mouth at the air pressure.
“I am terrified,” the accuser began.
“I am innocent,” the judge thundered.
By day’s end, Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh had sunk their heels into the same faded green carpet and looked into the same camera peering out from a slit in the rounded wooden dais where 21 senators had been scheduled, tentatively, to reconvene the next morning for a vote — a date set before either witness had said a word.
The gathering on Thursday was part trial, part theater, part compulsory national therapy. Tears came often, at the table and in the gallery seats behind it. Stabs at small talk never landed quite right. The judge seemed to grow emotional at one point discussing the craft of calendar-keeping.
Republican senators, the ones who will do the deciding, stared their most senatorial stares — strategically silent for hours, as an outside counsel used their allotted speaking time to cross-examine Dr. Blasey in nonconsecutive five-minute increments, as if in a “Law and Order” episode with too many commercial breaks to sustain momentum.
But the snapshots that seemed to settle most firmly in the city’s collective consciousness, the ones destined to linger long after the body’s verdict on Judge Kavanaugh is rendered, came early. Dr. Blasey leaned forward slightly and introduced herself. She shifted in her chair, beneath the embossed ceiling-panel images of a crustacean and the scales of justice. She told her hosts about a boy she had known.
The boy from Georgetown Prep.
“The boy,” she said, “who sexually assaulted me.”
The Trump age has made a habit of the mega-event, for better or worse: foreign summits, rampaging news conferences, the Senate testimony last year of James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director who managed to weaponize the word “lordy.”
Yet Thursday was different, deeper, even by the maximum-velocity standards of the modern news cycle. Perhaps never before has the unstoppable chaos of this Washington era subsumed so much simultaneously: the #MeToo movement, the fate of the high court, a capital’s toxic partisanship. Perhaps never before has the dislocating oddity of these political times — the commingling of the appalling and the awkward, the glib and the grave — announced itself so conspicuously, colliding in a hearing room far smaller than the moment.
“Women lie,” Kimberly Fletcher, 52, a pro-Kavanaugh activist from Omaha, said at a prayer rally outside the Capitol. “I’m a woman. Trust me.”
“She’s a woman who knows her worth,” Lisa Schievelbein, 39, a former student of Dr. Blasey’s, said of the professor, just up the street from the judge’s supporters. Dr. Blasey, she added, had been her dissertation adviser. The subject: “How do adult survivors recover from the shame of sexual maltreatment?”
Ms. Schievelbein planned to listen to Judge Kavanaugh, too. “I want all the data,” she said. “That’s what Blasey taught me: Get all the data.”
Inside, the senators seemed to want the same, to a point, fussing some as they listened — grabbing at coffee cups, thumbing through their phones a bit. Every five minutes or so, a Democrat took a turn thanking Dr. Blasey. In between, the outside counsel, Rachel Mitchell, held a pen between her fingers and tested lines of inquiry that seemed to require more time than she had, pressing Dr. Blasey on her aversion to flying and the costs of a polygraph test.
Dr. Blasey was deferential to protocol, eager to please.
“Does that work for you?” she asked, when the timing of a break was discussed.
“I can sketch a floor plan,” she offered at another point, hoping to help with a visual of the home where she said she was attacked.
She spoke by turns as a victim and a professional, interspersing her testimony with medical terms: norepinephrine, epinephrine, sequelae.
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” she said, steadying her voice as she recalled Judge Kavanaugh and his friend in the room with her 36 years ago. “The uproarious laughter.”
The tonal whiplash of Judge Kavanaugh’s committee session was probably inevitable, the product of a practiced public speaker, a last best chance at reputation salvation and President Trump’s desire, according to aides, to see a blazing self-defense.
He got one.
“I’ve been through hell and then some,” Judge Kavanaugh said, eyes straight ahead.
Moments later, he turned a question of whether he had ever blacked out while drinking on the senator asking it, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
“Have you?” he demanded, declining to answer initially. “I’m curious if you have.”
“I have no drinking problem,” Ms. Klobuchar said.
“Nor do I,” Judge Kavanaugh shot back. He later apologized.
But as his testimony wore on, the nominee increasingly found cover from Republicans who had tired of their own silence. They soon dispensed with Ms. Mitchell as their questioner.
“This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said, jabbing a finger toward the Democrats. “You’re supposed to be Bill Cosby when you’re a junior and senior in high school, then all the sudden you got over it.”
The spectacle did introduce a series of likely firsts for a Supreme Court confirmation — extended comments on a judge’s virginity, sidebars on drinking game guidelines, a nation poring over details from a frayed event planner doubling as a 1980s time capsule.
“Go to Grease II.” “Bullets Lose in Double OT.” “BEACH WEEK.”
Strangers from decades-past high school suburbia made cameos as if no introduction was necessary — workouts at “Tobin’s house,” movies with Suzanne — the precision of his schedule logs held up as at least partially exculpatory.
Inside and outside the hearing room, uncommon visitors stalked the grounds: Tarana Burke, credited as the founder of #MeToo; Alyssa Milano, an actress and activist; Chris Dudley, a towering former professional basketball player who is close with Judge Kavanaugh.
“I don’t know that it’s been that productive so far,” Mr. Dudley said, taking long strides to a lunch line during a break in Dr. Blasey’s remarks.
But for all the novelties of the day, the specter of past Washington dramas seemed to waft over the proceedings. Juanita Broaddrick — whose allegations of assault against Bill Clinton became a rallying cry for many Trump supporters amid the president’s own roster of accusers — held forth outside the building, asking when her day of reckoning would come. “You need to go in chronological order,” Ms. Broaddrick said.
Nearby, Steph Wolfram, 27, said she had been re-educating herself on the Anita Hill hearing in 1991, the year she was born. She turned to gaze at two dueling protest camps, shouting about the viability of an F.B.I. investigation into Dr. Blasey’s claims.
“We think we are improving,” Ms. Wolfram said, squinting through the rain. “Are we really?
Matt Flegenheimer is a reporter covering national politics. He started at The Times in 2011 on the Metro desk covering transit, City Hall and campaigns. @mattfleg