McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Democrats press for action on election security Hillicon Valley: Election security looms over funding talks | Antitrust enforcers in turf war | Facebook details new oversight board | Apple fights EU tax bill 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 TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border 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 CruzDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Prospects for Trump gun deal grow dimmer Ted Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report 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 CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Congress passes bill to begin scenic byways renaissance 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 GrassleyWe've lost sight of the real scandal Grassley: Kavanaugh classmate didn't contact Senate panel State Dept sent explosive-detection dogs to Jordan despite evidence of mistreatment: report 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 FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (R-Ariz.), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseManufacturing group leads coalition to urge Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank The Hill's Morning Report - Trump ousts Bolton; GOP exhales after win in NC Trump endorses Sasse in 2020 race 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 SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall 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.