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 GrassleyBurr says intelligence watchdog should be 'independent' after inspector general firing Lawmakers press IRS to get coronavirus checks to seniors Pelosi floats undoing SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus bill 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 TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report 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 senator: National shelter-in-place order would be an 'overreaction' Lawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package Cuban says he'd spank daughter if she was partying during coronavirus pandemic 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 McConnellPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Progressive group knocks McConnell for talking judicial picks during coronavirus Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill MORE (R-Ky.) has yet to comment on the allegations since they surfaced late last week.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchBottom line Bottom line Trump administration backs Oracle in Supreme Court battle against Google 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 CollinsGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus 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 MurkowskiOil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves GOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Murkowski pushes Mnuchin for oil company loans 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) ManchinPoliticians mourn the death of Bill Withers Pressure mounts for national parks closure amid coronavirus White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package MORE (W.Va.), 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.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents 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 JohnsonRemembering Tom Coburn's quiet persistence Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner GOP seeks up to 0 billion to maximize financial help to airlines, other impacted industries 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 BluntGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Five things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike 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 FlakeMcSally campaign to suspend TV ads, canvassing amid pandemic Coronavirus isn't the only reason Congress should spend less time in DC Trump Jr. says he inherited 'Tourette's of the thumbs' from his father MORE (Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMcConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight 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 ReidGOP embraces big stimulus after years of decrying it Five Latinas who could be Biden's running mate Winners and losers from Super Tuesday 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.