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McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellElection Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout Sanders: Democrats ‘absolutely’ have chance to win back rural America  Trump privately ready to blame Ryan and McConnell if Republicans lose midterms: report 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 TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: report 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 CruzTrump recounts 2016 feud with Cruz at Houston campaign rally Trump says he’s made up with ‘Beautiful Ted’ Cruz The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump says he is cutting foreign aid over caravan | Lawmakers point fingers at Saudi crown prince | DNC chair downplays 'blue wave' talk 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 CollinsManchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns 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 GrassleyGOP plays hardball in race to confirm Trump's court picks Trump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight Dems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October 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 FlakeCongress raises pressure on Saudi Arabia Flake says he and his family got death threats 'from the right' Trump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona MORE (R-Ariz.), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseCongress raises pressure on Saudi Arabia Toobin: Flake and Sasse ‘never actually take a stand’ against Trump GOP lawmaker on Trump's 'Horseface' comment: 'That's not the way men act' 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 SchumerManchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' 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 HatchGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Congress should work with Trump and not 'cowboy' on Saudi Arabia, says GOP senator US to open trade talks with Japan, EU, UK 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.