Allegations throw Kavanaugh confirmation into turmoil
Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination was plunged into chaos after a woman accusing him of sexual assault spoke publicly for the first time about the allegation on Sunday.
The fallout from the decades-old allegation is putting a spotlight on Senate Republicans, who must decide if they want to rush forward with Kavanaugh’s nomination with questions lingering over the Senate’s debate and vote.
Republicans have been confident for months that Kavanaugh would be confirmed by October, when the court starts its next term. But they are under intense pressure to delay a vote after Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, told The Washington Post that in high school in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed at a party and forced himself on her.
Ford told the Post that Kavanaugh “groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it.”
Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.
Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans quickly defended Kavanaugh, noting he had undergone multiple FBI background checks, and questioned the timing of the allegations.
Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), released a lengthy statement after the Post published its interview with Ford saying it was “disturbing” that the “uncorroborated allegations from more than 35 years ago, during high school, would surface on the eve of the committee vote.”
“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. Senator Feinstein should publicly release the letter she received back in July so that everyone can know what she’s known for weeks,” he added.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — who could become Judiciary Committee chairman next year — said that he aligned himself with the statement “about the substance and process regarding the allegations in this latest claim.”
Graham became the first Republican to open the door to a hearing from Ford, saying he would “gladly listen to what she has to say and compare that against all other information we have received about Judge Kavanaugh.”
But he caveated that the testimony should happen within the current timeline for confirming Kavanaugh, “so the process can continue as scheduled.”
And Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), another member of the Judiciary Committee, said on Sunday he believes the panel shouldn’t vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination until they’ve had time to dig into the allegation.
“For me, we can’t vote until we hear more,” Flake told the Post.
A spokeswoman for Flake didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. If the committee tried to move forward on Thursday and Flake joined all Democrats in voting “no,” that would likely result in a 10-11 vote in favor of Kavanaugh. But that wouldn’t prohibit his nomination from coming to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has a vote scheduled on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Thursday at 1:45 p.m. Republicans hold a majority on the committee, meaning if they stick together he could clear the panel this week.
In a move that could help stave off GOP defections, and keep Kavanaugh’s nomination on schedule, Grassley is working to set up calls before Thursday’s vote with both Kavanaugh and Ford.
“Given the late addendum to the background file and revelations of Dr. Ford’s identity, Chairman Grassley is actively working to set up … follow-up calls with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford ahead of Thursday’s scheduled vote,” a spokesman for the Judiciary Committee said on Sunday.
Republican leadership showed no intention of slowing down their plan to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court by the end of the month. If confirmed, he would give the party a major victory less than two months before the midterm election and is expected to help tilt the court to the right for decades.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to comment on Sunday, but the tightlipped GOP leader has not signaled that the sexual assault allegations have changed his mind about confirming Kavanaugh before October.
But even as Republican leadership is indicating they want to move forward with Kavanaugh, his nomination remains short of the 50 votes needed to be confirmed.
The caucus’s two potential swing votes — GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) — have yet to say how they will vote or if they want to delay the vote in the wake of the allegations, which first surfaced late last week when Senate Democrats said they had given a letter detailing the alleged incident to the FBI.
Spokespeople for both senators didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday. Collins had a one-hour phone call with Kavanaugh on Friday that was previously scheduled.
“Well I obviously was very surprised and it’s, it’s an issue that I brought up with him last Friday and he denied as he did in his written statement,” she told CNN on Sunday, declining to comment further.
The two senators are under a mountain of pressure by liberal activists and outside groups to oppose Kavanaugh in the wake of the sexual assault allegation. The two were already considered potential swing votes because they’ve previously broken with their party on ObamaCare repeal and abortion-related legislation.
Democrats would need to win over two Republican senators if they want to block Kavanaugh’s nomination. And the caucus began to break its days-long silence over the assault allegations on Sunday to unify behind a call for Kavanaugh’s vote to be delayed.
“Senator Grassley must postpone the vote until, at a very minimum, these serious and credible allegations are thoroughly investigated. For too long, when woman have made serious allegations of abuse, they have been ignored. That cannot happen in this case,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement on Sunday.
Democrats are widely expected to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination, but the sexual assault allegation comes as several red- and purple-state senators up for reelection remain on the fence.
Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) previously voted for Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s first Supreme Court pick, and were widely seen as potential “yes” votes for Kavanaugh.
But the three are facing renewed pressure from progressives who believe Kavanaugh’s nomination should be withdrawn, or that senators should block him, after the sexual assault allegation. Progressives warn that voting for Kavanaugh would backfire for incumbent senators by angering base voters they need to turn out to win their tight elections.
“We believe Christine Blasey Ford and so should every U.S Senator,” Demand Justice, a progressive group that opposes Kavanaugh, said shortly after The Washington Post published its story on Sunday.
Shaunna Thomas, executive director and co-founder of UltraViolet, said on Sunday that all senators must give the allegations the “seriousness that it deserves.”
“Ford’s accusations against Brett Kavanaugh are deeply troubling and totally disqualifying. Kavanaugh should withdraw his nomination immediately. Violence against women should have no place in our society and it certainly should have no place on the highest court in the nation.”
Heitkamp, Manchin and Donnelly, who aren’t on the Judiciary Committee, didn’t immediately echo their colleagues on Sunday to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Spokespeople for the three moderate senators didn’t respond to a request for comment.
It was a break from fellow red-state Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who said on Twitter on Sunday that the Senate should hit “pause” on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“It is more important than ever to hit the pause button on Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote until we can fully investigate these serious and disturbing allegations. We cannot rush to move forward under this cloud,” Jones, who is not a member of the committee, said in a tweet.
The allegations sparked criticism from the conservative Judicial Crisis Network. “Judge Kavanaugh is admired in his church, in his community, and in his profession. Throughout his distinguished career in public service, he has undergone half a dozen FBI background checks, and never a whisper of misconduct. Until the eve of his confirmation,” the group said.
“It doesn’t add up. 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.”