This week: Allegations inject uncertainty into Kavanaugh nomination
© Anna Moneymaker

Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination has been thrown into limbo after a woman accusing him of sexual misconduct spoke publicly for the first time about the allegation on Sunday.

Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, recounted an incident from when she and Kavanaugh were in high school to The Washington Post, saying Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed at a party and attempted to remove her clothes.

Several Republicans, in the wake of Ford going public, opened the door to allowing Ford to speak with the panel ahead of a committee vote, which is currently scheduled for Thursday at 1:45 p.m.

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Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (R-Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (R-Tenn.), two critics of Trump’s who are retiring after 2018, said the Judiciary Committee should hear from Ford if she wants to speak with members.

“For me, we can’t vote until we hear more,” Flake told the Post.

Unlike Corker, Flake is a member of the Judiciary Committee, where Republicans hold a one-seat advantage.

Flake could complicate Kavanaugh’s path to the Senate floor if he sided with all Democrats on the committee and voted "no." But GOP leadership has procedural options to get Kavanaugh’s nomination out of the committee even if he can’t win over a majority of the panel.

GOP Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamYates spars with GOP at testy hearing Trump knocks Sally Yates ahead of congressional testimony Republicans uncomfortably playing defense MORE (S.C.) also indicated he would be willing to listen to Ford but that he didn’t believe the timeline for confirming Kavanaugh should be altered. Republicans want him on the Supreme Court by October.

"If the committee is to hear from Ms. Ford it should be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled,” Graham said on Sunday.

But Republican leadership has shown no indications of changing its schedule for confirming Kavanaugh, giving the party a major win heading into the midterms and solidifying the conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Judiciary Committee Republicans, released a lengthy statement on Sunday defending Kavanaugh, saying it was “disturbing” that “uncorroborated allegations … would surface on the eve of a committee vote after Democrats sat on them since July.”

“It raises a lot of questions about Democrats’ tactics and motives to bring this to the rest of the committee’s attention only now rather than during these many steps along the way,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellNegotiators remain far apart on coronavirus deal as deadline looms States begin removing Capitol's Confederate statues on their own Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal MORE (R-Ky.) has said that he expects the Senate to hold a confirmation vote on Kavanaugh next week. A spokesman declined to comment Sunday, but the tightlipped GOP leader hasn’t indicated a change in schedule.

And Republicans are getting backup from GOP pundits and conservative outside groups, who are warning that blocking Kavanaugh, or withdrawing his nomination, would set a precedent for future nominees.

“It doesn't add up,” Carrie Severino, Judicial Crisis Network's chief counsel and policy director, said of the allegation. “But what does add up is that Democrats are doubling down on a strategy of character assassination, seeking to destroy the life of a distinguished public servant for the sake of appeasing their base."

Donald Trump Jr. mocked Democrats on Instagram by posting a photo of a note that asks, in childlike handwriting, "hi Cindy will you be my girlfriend," with boxes for checking yes or no.
 
"Oh boy... the Dems and their usual nonsense games really have him on the ropes now," Trump Jr. added. 

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe On The Money: Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions | Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs | Survey finds nearly one-third of rehired workers laid off again Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions MORE (R-Iowa) is working to set up staff calls with Kavanaugh and Ford ahead of the committee’s Thursday vote.

But Democrats rejected that offer on Sunday night, arguing the allegation needs to be investigated by federal authorities.

Republicans “cannot impartially investigate these disturbing allegations. That must be done by the FBI, and the vote must be postponed until it is complete,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerGroup of GOP senators back more money for airlines to pay workers GOP super PAC launching August ad blitz Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a tweet.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinYates spars with GOP at testy hearing Democrats want Biden to debate Trump despite risks Mini-exodus of Trump officials from Commerce to lobby on semiconductors MORE (D-Calif.) added that staff calls “aren’t the appropriate way to handle this.”

“I agree with Senator Flake that we should delay this week’s vote. There’s a lot of information we don’t know and the FBI should have the time it needs to investigate this new material,” Feinstein said.

Democrats are largely uniting behind a call to delay Kavanaugh’s vote until an investigation can be completed, even as progressive outside groups have called for his nomination to be withdrawn.

The sexual misconduct allegation comes as Kavanaugh remains short of the 50 votes needed to be confirmed.

Neither GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsAnalysis finds record high number of woman versus woman congressional races Group of GOP senators back more money for airlines to pay workers Republicans uncomfortably playing defense MORE (Maine) nor Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court cancels shutdown of Dakota Access Pipeline | US could avoid 4.5M early deaths by fighting climate change, study finds | Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic MORE (Alaska) have said how they will vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Murkowski told CNN on Sunday night that the committee "might" have to consider delaying Kavanaugh's vote.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinHillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court cancels shutdown of Dakota Access Pipeline | US could avoid 4.5M early deaths by fighting climate change, study finds | Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic MORE (W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (Ind.) were widely viewed as potential “yes” votes before the allegation surfaced last week. They are each running for reelection in states won by Trump and voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

"He is continuing to review these serious allegations, and any and all information related to Judge Kavanaugh's nomination,” Donnelly’s office told an Indiana TV station.

Government funding

The Senate is poised to move this week to prevent an end-of-the-month government shutdown fight.

Congress sent its first "minibus" package to President TrumpDonald John TrumpLincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Twitter bans Trump campaign until it deletes tweet with COVID-19 misinformation MORE’s desk last week that included bills for military construction and veterans’ affairs, the legislative branch and energy and water.

This week, the Senate is expected to vote on a second mammoth deal to fund the Departments of Defense, Education, Labor and Health and Human Services for fiscal 2019. Negotiators announced a deal on the package, which represents the lion's share of government spending, last week.

With the House out of town this week the Senate is expected to go first on the deal holding a vote this week. That would tee the House up to pass the bill days before the end-of-month deadline.

Lawmakers are expected to attach a short-term continuing resolution to the package to fund the rest of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, through Dec. 7.

The move would avert a fight over Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall until after the midterm election.

Opioid

The Senate is poised to take up a bipartisan opioid funding package after pushing action on the effort last week.

Senators are expected to vote on the package, which is aimed at combating the nation’s opioid epidemic, on Monday evening, setting up a bipartisan win months before the midterm election.

The legislation, which includes more than 70 proposals from across five Senate committees, focuses on treatment and prevention as well as curbing the flow of illicit substances into the US.

It includes the the STOP Act, which was authored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and advocated by Trump on Twitter. The bill would crack down on the shipment of synthetic drugs like fentanyl to drug traffickers in the U.S.

In addition to the opioids package, the Senate is set to vote on legislation from Collins that bans "gag clauses" that prevent pharmacists from telling customers when they can save money on prescriptions by paying with cash instead of insurance.

The House passed its own opioid legislation in June. Once the Senate passes its legislation, they’ll need to work out the differences between their two bills before they can send the package to Trump’s desk.