Key GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand

Key GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand
© Anna Moneymaker

Two of the three Republican senators likely to determine the fate of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court are urging the woman accusing him of sexual misconduct decades ago to appear at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenators want assurances from attorney general pick on fate of Mueller probe 5 themes to watch for in 2020 fight for House Judd Gregg: The last woman standing MORE (Maine), a perennial swing vote in the Senate on high-profile issues, echoed points made by her more conservative colleagues on Wednesday, saying that it would be unfair for Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, to not to speak with senators, either in a public hearing or behind closed doors, after making the allegation against Kavanaugh.

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“The effort right now is still to convince Professor Ford to come forward as she has said that she wants to do, and I think it would be better for her to do so,” Collins told a Maine radio station. “I think it’s not fair to Judge Kavanaugh for her to not to come forward and testify.”

Collins also was dismissive of the call by Ford’s lawyers late Tuesday for the FBI to conduct a new background investigation on Kavanaugh as a precursor to Ford’s testimony.

The Maine senator said that request “reverses the normal order of things” and that the FBI has already conducted six background checks.

A second Republican senator undecided on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake: Republican Party ‘is a frog slowly boiling in water’ Tim Scott: Stop giving court picks with 'questionable track records on race' a Senate vote Flake stands firm on sending a ‘message to the White House’ on Mueller MORE (Ariz.), also called on her to show up at the Judiciary Committee hearing set for Monday.

“When Dr. Ford came forward, I said that her voice should be heard and asked the Judiciary Committee to delay its vote on Judge Kavanaugh,” Flake said in a tweet. “It did so. I now implore Dr. Ford to accept the invitation for Monday, in a public or private setting.”

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate advances Trump energy pick after Manchin flips The Senate must reject Bernard McNamee’s nomination for FERC Overnight Defense: Congress pauses to mourn George H.W. Bush | Haspel to brief senators on Khashoggi killing | Soldier is fourth to die from Afghan IED blast MORE (Alaska), a third GOP vote in question, demurred in response to a question from CNN about reopening the background check process.

“I think that an allegation has been made by Dr. Ford. I think her story deserves to be heard and the committee process has been made available to her,” she said.

Spokespeople for Murkowski didn’t respond to a request for comment on Wednesday about if she was supported moving to a vote on Kavanaugh if Ford doesn’t testify on Monday. But Murkowski said repeatedly this week that she wants to hear from Ford in some capacity.

“The committee has got to have a process that is viewed as respectful of the individuals, both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. … She deserves to have her story heard. We need to figure out a way … that we can have a process that is fair and respectful,” Murkowski told reporters.

“I don’t know what that’s going to look like,” Murkowski continued. “[But] this senator does not want this to be a circus. This senator does not want this to be a sham.”

The signals from the three GOP senators are likely welcome news to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCornyn opens door to including criminal justice bill in government funding measure The Hill's Morning Report — Trump shakes up staff with eye on 2020, Mueller probe Judd Gregg: The government goes geriatric MORE (Ky.) and other Republicans, who have seen Kavanaugh’s smooth confirmation process hit significant turbulence over Ford’s accusations

The remarks from Collins in particular appeared to back up Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyBrady releases revised version of year-end tax package Overnight Health Care: House set to vote on bill targeting drug companies for overcharging Medicaid | Dems press Trump officials on pre-existing conditions | Tobacco giant invests .8B in Canadian marijuana grower House set to vote on bill cracking down on drug companies overcharging Medicaid MORE (R-Iowa), who has not budged from his call for Kavanaugh and Ford to testify on Monday.

“You have stated repeatedly that Dr. Ford wants to tell her story. I sincerely hope that Dr. Ford will accept my invitation to do so, either privately or publicly, on Monday. In the meantime, my staff would still welcome the opportunity to speak with Dr. Ford at a time and place convenient to her,” Grassley wrote Wednesday night in a letter to Ford’s lawyers.

Ford, 51, has accused Kavanaugh of pinning her down, trying to remove her clothes and covering her mouth when she tried to scream for help during a party in the 1980s, when the two were teenagers.

She and her attorneys, backed by Senate Democrats, are asking the FBI to look into the
incident by reopening its background check, something Republicans and the White House say will not happen.

Collins and Murkowski have been under enormous pressure in the Supreme Court fight. The two are at the center of a media frenzy on Capitol Hill, where they were encircled by dozens of reporters this week as they made their way through the Senate basement.

Progressives identified them early on as the two GOP senators most likely to buck their party leadership because of their previous opposition to repealing ObamaCare and legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks. Kavanaugh, if confirmed, is expected to tilt the court to the right for decades.

Demand Justice, an outside group opposed to Kavanaugh, released new polling Wednesday that found that half of voters would be less likely to support Collins in 2020 if she supports Kavanaugh. In a separate question, 57 percent say they would be less likely to support Collins if she voted to confirm Kavanaugh “without allowing a full and fair hearing of the sexual assault allegations against him.”

And the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) is going up with newspaper ads against both of them on Thursday asking if they believe Ford.

“If Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski don’t publicly oppose Kavanaugh, their legacy will be putting someone into the Supreme Court as the deciding vote who is hostile to women on all levels,” said Stephanie Taylor, PCCC co-founder.

Republican leadership is keeping a close eye on how potential swing votes within their caucus are reacting to their strategy for handling Ford’s accusation.

Grassley told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that no Republican senator has privately told them they will oppose Kavanaugh. But opposition from any combination of the three swing votes could pose a threat, and potentially sink, Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynCornyn opens door to including criminal justice bill in government funding measure This week: Trump, Dems set to meet amid funding fight GOP tensions running high on criminal justice bill MORE (R-Texas) said they are working with Collins, Murkowski and Flake to make sure the three senators believe they are treating Ford fairly.

“We’re working with them and others to try to make sure that they agree that the process and the opportunity we’re giving to Dr. Ford is fair,” he said, adding that leadership is “listening to their concerns [and] trying to accommodate.”