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 GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - What to watch for as Mueller’s probe winds down Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Drug pricing fight centers on insulin | Florida governor working with Trump to import cheaper drugs | Dems blast proposed ObamaCare changes Drug pricing fight centers on insulin 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 TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall 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 CornynInviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Trump endorses Cornyn for reelection as O'Rourke mulls challenge O’Rourke not ruling out being vice presidential candidate 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 McConnellOvernight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run Poll: 33% of Kentucky voters approve of McConnell Five takeaways from McCabe’s allegations against Trump MORE (R-Ky.) has yet to comment on the allegations since they surfaced late last week.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchThe FDA crackdown on dietary supplements is inadequate Orrin Hatch Foundation seeking million in taxpayer money to fund new center in his honor Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab 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. 
 

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

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate Dems to introduce resolution blocking Trump's emergency declaration GOP Sen. Collins says she'll back resolution to block Trump's emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump escalates fight with NY Times 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) ManchinOvernight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal Gabbard cites ‘concerns’ about ‘vagueness’ of Green New Deal MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks 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 JohnsonWhite House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration GOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority GOP senator voices concern about Trump order, hasn't decided whether he'll back it 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 Blunt‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration The border deal: What made it in, what got left out 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 FlakePoll: 33% of Kentucky voters approve of McConnell Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union MORE (Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger RNC votes to give Trump 'undivided support' ahead of 2020 Sen. Risch has unique chance to guide Trump on foreign policy 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 ReidHarry Reid says he won’t make 2020 endorsement until after Nevada caucus Sanders hires veteran progressive operative to manage 2020 bid Constitutional conservatives need to oppose the national emergency 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.