McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi, Schumer press for gun screenings as Trump inches away The malware election: Returning to paper ballots only way to prevent hacking First House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons MORE (R-Ky.) is privately warning GOP colleagues that there will be political fallout for the party if they fail to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, quashing any talk within his conference about pressuring Kavanaugh to drop out.

McConnell gathered Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in his Capitol Hill office Tuesday to buck up their resolve to get the nominee confirmed before the election, according to lawmakers who attended. 

“McConnell’s message was, ‘Get it done!’ He said there are a few issues that voters care about and the Supreme Court is one of them,” said one Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. 

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The lawmaker said this stern message from McConnell has tamped down any talk of pressing Kavanaugh to withdraw his name though “some of us may be thinking it.” 

The GOP leader later told reporters Tuesday, “I’m not concerned about tanking the nomination.” 

Republican senators also note there are no signs that President TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems MORE, who on Tuesday said his pick didn’t “deserve” to have to deal with the political fallout from the allegations, would withdraw the nomination. 

The president on Tuesday accused Democrats of laying a political trap for Kavanaugh. 

“They knew what they were doing,” he said at a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda.

At the same time, Republican senators acknowledge there is a political risk to ramming Kavanaugh through the chamber or ganging up on Christine Blasey Ford, who is invited to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. 

A CNN/SSRS poll conducted before Ford’s allegations fully became public found tepid public support for Kavanaugh: 38 percent said the Senate should confirm him while 39 percent said “no” and 23 percent voiced no opinion. 

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP strategist predicts Biden will win nomination, cites fundraising strength 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters MORE (R-Texas), who is facing a competitive reelection race, said Tuesday that he hopes to avoid the circus-like atmosphere that surrounded the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill hearings of 1991. 

“I very much hope this hearing on Monday doesn’t become a political circus, and I think Democratic senators have an incentive to try to turn it into a circus so I hope they will exercise some restraint and hope they will focus on substance instead of theatrics,” he said. 

The harsh cross-examination of Senate Republicans toward Hill sparked a public backlash, which helped female Democratic candidates for Senate win election the following year. 

“It’s not going to look good to have 11 older white men asking Ford questions” about her memories of sexual assault, said one Republican senator, who said there’s fear within the conference of a political backlash. 

To limit the chances of a politically damaging public spectacle reminiscent of a Thomas-Hill redux, McConnell has floated the option of letting Ford testify in a closed session, without the presence of television cameras. 

McConnell and members of the Judiciary Committee also discussed the possibility of bringing on an outside, independent counsel to ask questions of Ford, which would shield Republican senators from looking like unsympathetic interrogators. 

The Senate used outside counsel to ask questions of key witnesses during the Watergate and Iran-Contra hearings, one GOP source noted. 

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move MORE (Maine), a leading Republican moderate, on Tuesday proposed allowing Kavanaugh’s and Ford’s lawyers to take the lead in questioning the witnesses to lower the chances of a political spectacle. 

“That way you would avoid the disruption of going side to side,” she said. “I think we would get more information more quickly.”

McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyWhite House denies exploring payroll tax cut to offset worsening economy Schumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord GOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation MORE (R-Iowa) agreed to schedule an additional day of hearings for Kavanaugh to respond to Ford’s charges after getting strong pressure from three members of the Judiciary Committee: Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeArpaio considering running for former sheriff job after Trump pardon Overnight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument Carbon tax shows new signs of life in Congress MORE (R-Ariz.), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump lauds tariffs on China while backtracking from more To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies Feds face mounting pressure over Epstein's death MORE (R-Neb.) and Cruz. 

Flake threatened to vote "no" on Kavanaugh nomination if the Senate didn’t give Ford a chance to testify before the committee about her experience with Kavanaugh. 

Republicans, however, have unified behind Grassley’s decision to invite only Kavanaugh and Ford to testify.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJohnson eyes Irish border in Brexit negotiations Lewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid MORE (D-N.Y.) argued that Kavanaugh’s high school friend, Mark Judge, who Ford said was present when Kavanaugh attempted to assault her, should also testify. 

Schumer called Grassley’s limited witness list “simply inadequate, unfair, wrong and a desire not to get at the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

“How could we want to get the truth and not have Mr. Judge come to the hearing,” Schumer asked on the Senate floor. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, Ford had not yet committed to appear before the committee on Monday. Republicans said they would likely hold the hearing anyway to hear Kavanaugh’s side of the story and not further delay his nomination. 

“I hope so,” Grassley said when asked if a hearing is going to take place.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE (Utah), a senior Republican on the committee, said if Ford doesn’t come to testify before the committee, a hearing will still likely take place Monday. 

“I think so,” he said.