GOP launches counteroffensive on Kavanaugh

The White House and Senate Republicans launched an intense counterattack on behalf of Brett Kavanaugh on Monday, signaling they intend to go forward with a vote on his nomination to the Supreme Court despite new allegations of past sexual misconduct.

The aggressive response was led by Kavanaugh himself, who said he was the victim of a “character assassination” and “smears,” an argument echoed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Senate GOP eyes 'nuclear option' for Trump nominees next week Taiwan’s President Tsai should be invited to address Congress MORE (R-Ky.).

“I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process,” Kavanaugh wrote in a letter to the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The coordinated effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out. The vile threats of violence against my family will not drive me out. The last-minute character assassination will not succeed.”

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Shortly after Kavanaugh’s letter became public, McConnell delivered an unusually fiery speech on the Senate floor directed at his party’s base and the trio of undecided GOP senators who are likely to decide whether Kavanaugh is confirmed to the court.

“I want to make it perfectly clear: Judge Kavanaugh will be voted on here on the Senate floor,” said McConnell, who accused Democrats of having “aided and abetted” a “shameful, shameful smear campaign” against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values MORE’s nominee.

Trump told reporters hours earlier that he stands behind Kavanaugh “all the way” and said the accusations against him are “totally political.”

“This could be one of the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything,” he said at the United Nations.

The effort to close ranks around Kavanaugh was a clear attempt to quell speculation that GOP support for the nominee is wavering amid the new allegations.

The New Yorker reported Sunday night that Senate Democrats are investigating claims from Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a party at Yale University in the 1980s. That followed Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh pinned her down at a party and tried to rip off her clothes while both were in high school.

Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the allegations through written statements. The judge doubled down on those denials in person alongside his wife, Ashley, in a Fox News interview Monday night.

“I’m not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process,” said Kavanaugh, while looking at his wife. “I’m not going anywhere.”

A failed Supreme Court nomination would deal a severe blow to Trump and Republicans ahead of the November midterm elections, with the party already struggling to hold on to its majorities in the House and Senate.

One of the GOP’s top selling points to its base has been its ability to put conservative judges on the Supreme Court. Voters could be demoralized if Justice Anthony Kennedy, a frequent swing vote on the Supreme Court, is not replaced with a right-leaning justice.

“If the Republicans do not get this vote taken and have Kavanaugh confirmed, you can kiss the midterms goodbye,” conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said on his Monday show. “You can kiss goodbye holding the House and you can kiss goodbye holding the Senate.”

The rhetoric from Trump and Republicans marks an escalation in their efforts to defend Kavanaugh and is an indication the GOP believes their core supporters are hungry for a fight.

After Ford came forward last week to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Trump defended Kavanaugh but was careful not to criticize Ford by name. Trump also suggested Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote could be delayed in order to investigate Ford’s claims.

But Trump slowly took on a more antagonistic approach toward Ford. He raised questions about her credibility on Friday, when he tweeted that if her allegations were “as bad as she says,” then “charges would have been immediately filed.”

The gloves came off on Monday after Ramirez’s account was published.

White House and Republican National Committee (RNC) aides circulated emails to reporters Sunday night and Monday morning challenging Ramirez’s story.

Mike Reed, the RNC’s deputy communications director, wrote that The New Yorker’s account has “major holes” because it does not include an eyewitness account verifying Ramirez’s accusations and downplays the possibility she has political motivations in coming forward with her story.

White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec pointed to “damning” reporting in The New York Times, which published an article stating it interviewed several dozen people in order to corroborate Ramirez’s story but could not find anyone with firsthand knowledge.

“Whenever there’s an accusation like this made, you don’t want to get ahead of yourself. The White House was smart not just to jump on this stuff,” said one source close to the White House, who requested anonymity to describe internal thinking. “But clearly, after a week, they feel more comfortable with the idea that Kavanaugh is innocent, rather than less comfortable.”

The White House sought to drive home that message on a conference call for surrogates on Monday morning. Officials vouched for Kavanaugh’s character and urged them to publicly defend his nomination, according to sources familiar with the call.

Winning the battle of public opinion could prove crucial in preventing Republican senators from defecting on a confirmation vote.

GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Kaine to force Senate to hold rare Saturday session amid shutdown MORE (Alaska) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSchumer recruiting top-notch candidate for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — Trump eyes wall money options as shutdown hits 21 days Poll: Sanders most popular senator, Flake least MORE (Ariz.) have raised concerns about the allegations against Kavanaugh. If all Democrats vote against Kavanaugh, Republicans can only afford to lose one of their own senators and still confirm the judge to the high court.

Net support for Kavanaugh’s nomination fell by 8 percentage points and 6 percentage points, respectively, in NBC News–Wall Street Journal and Reuters–Ipsos polls after Ford made her allegations.

That trend makes the stakes especially high for Thursday’s Senate hearing. Some Republicans have previously expressed fears that if senators subject Ford to too harsh a grilling, it could turn off independent and female voters the party might need to win in the midterms.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyCongress should stop tariff power grab, bring balance to U.S. trade policy Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices MORE (R-Iowa), Ford wrote that she would not be cowed by death threats and the media frenzy sparked by her accusations.

“While I am frightened, please know, my fear will not hold me back from testifying and you will be provided with answers to all of your questions. I ask for fair and respectful treatment,” Ford wrote.

Grassley pledged that he is “committed to fair and respectful treatment” in a response letter to Ford, even as he criticized her decision to inform only Democratic lawmakers of her accusations.

Thursday’s hearing is set to take place in an especially charged environment in Washington.

Trump on Monday decided to schedule a meeting that same day with Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinBarr’s first task as AG: Look at former FBI leaders’ conduct 5 myths about William Barr William Barr's only 'flaw' is that he was nominated by Trump MORE to discuss his future at the Justice Department, which could have significant implications for the Russia investigation.