Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow

Senate Republicans are scrambling to contain the fallout from a sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh amid escalating calls for he and his accuser to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

GOP leadership is under growing pressure from multiple factions of their caucus, as well as Democrats, to allow Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, to speak before the Senate Judiciary Committee after she decided to go public with her accusation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the early 1980s.

It's far from clear, however, whether Kavanaugh or Ford will appear before the committee, or whether anything will be done in public.

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Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care: House set to vote on bill targeting drug companies for overcharging Medicaid | Dems press Trump officials on pre-existing conditions | Tobacco giant invests .8B in Canadian marijuana grower House set to vote on bill cracking down on drug companies overcharging Medicaid Trump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, doubled down early Monday afternoon about his decision to set up staff calls with Kavanaugh and Ford ahead of a scheduled committee vote on Thursday to move forward with the nomination.

Grassley said he was willing to listen to Ford in an “appropriate, precedented and respectful manner.”

“The standard procedure for updates to any nominee’s background investigation file is to conduct separate follow-up calls with relevant parties. In this case, that would entail phone calls with at least Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford. Consistent with that practice, I asked Senator Feinstein’s office yesterday to join me in scheduling these follow-ups,” Grassley said.

He added that Democrats were so far refusing to take part in the call but it’s “a necessary step in evaluating these claims, I’ll continue working to set them up.”

A public hearing carries obvious risks for Republicans in the "Me Too" era that has toppled high-profile figures both on and off Capitol Hill.

It would have echoes of the Anita Hill hearings, in which a former colleague of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas testified about allegations of sexual harassment. Thomas was confirmed despite Hill’s testimony, which was carried live on television at the time.

A new public hearing where Ford would detail her charges and be questioned by senators would spark a media frenzy less than two months before a midterm election where control of Congress hangs in the balance.

Both parties are conscious of the role that women voters will play in the midterms. Polls suggest woman are breaking against the GOP and President TrumpDonald John TrumpCorsi sues Mueller for alleged leaks and illegal surveillance Comey: Trump 'certainly close' to being unindicted co-conspirator Trump pushes back on reports that Ayers was first pick for chief of staff MORE, who has faced accusations himself of sexual harassment and assault.

Republicans on Monday seemed to be lining up behind Grassley in arguing there should be no new public hearing.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP tensions running high on criminal justice bill US-Saudi relationship enters uncharted territory Senate edges closer to rebuking Trump on Saudi Arabia MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said that Democrats had “egregiously mishandled” the allegation from Ford by not making it public earlier. He said Republicans shouldn’t make a similar mistake by holding a new hearing.

“If Democrats reject the committee handling this swiftly and in a bipartisan way through regular order, then it’s clear that their only intention is to smear Judge Kavanaugh and derail his nomination,” Cornyn said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey Senate Republican: Criminal justice reform needs more GOP support GOP tensions running high on criminal justice bill Trump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference MORE (R-Ky.) has yet to comment on the allegations since they surfaced late last week.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchNew Congress, same issues for Puerto Rico Internet gambling addiction is a looming crisis Trump runs into GOP opposition with NAFTA threat MORE (R-Utah), a member and former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, threw his support behind Grassley's decision "to begin our due diligence in the regular order." 
 
"By working with us to get the facts expeditiously—and by maintaining Chairman Grassley’s initial timeline—Democrats can prove that their first priority is the truth, not politics," he said. 
 
Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenators want assurances from attorney general pick on fate of Mueller probe 5 themes to watch for in 2020 fight for House Judd Gregg: The last woman standing MORE (R-Maine), a pivotal vote in a Senate narrowly held by Republicans with a 51-49 majority, said in a tweet that both Kavanaugh and Ford should appear before the committee, but did not call for public hearings.

“Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh should both testify under oath before the Judiciary Committee,” Collins said in a tweet.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate advances Trump energy pick after Manchin flips The Senate must reject Bernard McNamee’s nomination for FERC Overnight Defense: Congress pauses to mourn George H.W. Bush | Haspel to brief senators on Khashoggi killing | Soldier is fourth to die from Afghan IED blast MORE (R-Alaska), who voted against an ObamaCare repeal bill last summer along with Collins, told CNN late Sunday night that the Judiciary Committee “might” need to consider delaying a Thursday vote.

Republicans can only afford to lose one GOP senator before they need to lean on Democrats to confirm Kavanaugh. Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSchumer to Trump: Future infrastructure bill must combat climate change Overnight Energy: Senate confirms controversial energy pick | EPA plans rollback of Obama coal emissions rule | GOP donor gave Pruitt K for legal defense Senate confirms Trump’s controversial energy pick MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampSchumer walking tightrope with committee assignments Banking panel showcases 2020 Dems Trump to nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as next EPA administrator MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySchumer gets ready to go on the offensive Schumer walking tightrope with committee assignments 10 things we learned from the midterms MORE (Ind.) were once considered potential “yes” votes, but the sexual assault allegation has thrown Kavanaugh’s ability to win over Democrats into question.

Donnelly on Monday called for the Judiciary Committee to delay its vote, while Heitkamp said Ford should be allowed to testify and that the panel should give time for her allegation to be investigated.

Collins and Murkowski aren’t the only Republicans arguing that Ford should be allowed to testify or that the Judiciary Committee should slow down, either, underscoring the tenuous footing Kavanaugh’s nomination is on.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Defense: Trump at G-20 | Calls Ukraine 'sole reason' for canceling Putin meeting | Senate passes resolution condemning Russian actions | Armed Services chairmen warn against defense cuts Senate passes resolution condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine Overnight Defense: Trump faces new Russia test over Ukraine | Cancels plans to meet Putin at G-20 | Officials float threat of military action against Iran MORE (R-Wis.) told a Wisconsin radio station on Monday that Ford “is willing to come forward and tell her story and we should listen to her."

Republicans initially signaled that they thought they could move Kavanaugh’s nomination through the Judiciary Committee this week, and the Senate floor by the end of the month, when the allegations were anonymous.

But Ford’s lawyer said on Monday that she is willing to testify before the Judiciary Committee after she spoke with The Washington Post on Sunday. Ford told the Post that at a party when both she and Kavanaugh were in high school Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed at a party and attempted to take her clothes off.

And Kavanaugh subsequently released a statement on Monday denying wrongdoing but saying he was willing to speak with the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntNRCC breach exposes gaps 2 years after Russia hacks Senate panel advances Trump nominees for election agency Senate Republican: 'Big mistake' if Cohen lied to intelligence committee MORE (R-Mo.) became the first member of leadership on Monday to say Ford’s allegation should be looked into before the Judiciary Committee moves forward.

“These are serious allegations that need to be looked at closely by the committee before any other action is taken,” Blunt said in a statement.

In addition to Blunt, GOP Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake: Republican Party ‘is a frog slowly boiling in water’ Tim Scott: Stop giving court picks with 'questionable track records on race' a Senate vote Flake stands firm on sending a ‘message to the White House’ on Mueller MORE (Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCongress digs in for prolonged Saudi battle US-Saudi relationship enters uncharted territory Senate edges closer to rebuking Trump on Saudi Arabia MORE (Tenn.) have both called for the committee work to be paused until senators are able to talk to Ford.

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

Flake’s stance could be particularly problematic to Kavanaugh’s nomination. Republicans hold a one-seat majority on the Judiciary Committee, meaning if he sides with Democrats in voting “no,” Kavanaugh wouldn’t have the majority needed to get a favorable recommendation from the panel.

Republicans could try to use procedural maneuvers to get Kavanaugh out of the Judiciary Committee without a favorable vote, but it would raise new questions about his ability to get confirmed by the full Senate.

And it would invite, potentially inevitable, comparisons to the confirmation fight around Thomas. 

Progressive groups are calling on the White House to withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination, which would allow them to avoid a second hearing but is something the administration has said it will not do as it stands by Kavanaugh.

The move would allow Republicans to try to get a second Supreme Court nominee confirmed in the lame duck. It takes Supreme Court nominees roughly 67 days from the time they are nominated until they get a vote.

That would mean the administration would need to withdraw Kavanaugh and nominate someone else quickly if they wanted a justice in place by the end of the year. Democrats have a narrow path to retaking the Senate in January, which could prevent Trump from filling the seat.

Adam Jentleson, an aide for former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidManchin’s likely senior role on key energy panel rankles progressives Water wars won’t be won on a battlefield Poll finds most Americans and most women don’t want Pelosi as Speaker MORE (D-Nev.), floated that moderate GOP senators could urge the White House to withdraw Kavanaugh in exchange for supporting whoever they send up

“To avoid spiking his nomination, Collins & Murkowski could urge the WH to get Kavanaugh to withdraw & nominate someone like Amy Coney Barrett on the promise that they’ll vote to confirm her in lame duck. Of course, that’s after the election & the world could look very different,” Jentleson wrote in a tweet.