Grassley panel scraps Kavanaugh hearing, warns committee will vote without deal

The Senate Judiciary Committee is postponing a high-stakes hearing set for early next week on the sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The committee announced on Friday that the Monday hearing — where both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, had been invited to speak — was being called off.

ADVERTISEMENT

Instead, Grassley said in a statement Friday that he is giving Ford’s lawyers until 10 p.m. on Friday to respond to the GOP request for her to testify on Wednesday. If they do not, or if Ford declines to testify, Grassley said the Judiciary Committee will vote Monday on Kavanaugh's nomination.

“I’m providing a notice of a vote to occur Monday in the event that Dr. Ford’s attorneys don’t respond or Dr. Ford decides not to testify. In the event that we can come to a reasonable resolution as I’ve been seeking all week, then I will postpone the committee vote to accommodate her testimony. We cannot continue to delay,” Grassley said in a statement. 

The announcement comes after lawyers for Ford and Judiciary Committee staffers struggled to reach an agreement on holding a hearing. 

Lawyers for Ford said Thursday that she would not testify during the public hearing that Senate Republicans had set for Monday.

Instead, the two sides have been locked in a 24-hour back-and-forth over the terms of a potential hearing.

“She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety,” Ford’s lawyer, Debra Katz, wrote in requesting to talk with Judiciary Committee staff about such “conditions” for the testimony.

Ford’s lawyers pitched Judiciary Committee staff during a separate call about the potential setup for a hearing, including floating Thursday as an alternate day for a hearing. Attorneys for Ford asked that Kavanaugh not be in the same room as Ford and that Kavanaugh testify first.

Republicans on Friday made a counteroffer including that the hearing take place on Wednesday and that Kavanaugh testify after Ford.

Democrats lambasted the GOP maneuver, arguing they were trying to “rush” Ford into testifying and were repeating mistakes from the 1991 Anita Hill hearings where Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate Dems urge Trump to continue nuclear arms control negotiations after treaty suspension Senate Intel leaders ask judge not to jail former aide amid leak investigation Dems demand Pompeo brief Congress on whether he discussed Assange with Ecuadorian official MORE (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, blasted Grassley’s decision Friday, saying Republicans have “learned nothing” since the 1991 hearings.

“It’s clear that Republicans are doing all they can to cement another conservative seat on the Supreme Court—at any cost—even pushing through a nominee with a cloud of controversy hanging over his head. Brett Kavanaugh could serve on the court for 40 years, what’s another 24 hours to make sure we get this right?” Feinstein asked. 

Republicans are under public pressure from President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE, who broke his silence about Ford on Friday, and urged senators to move forward with Kavanaugh's confirmation even if Ford would not testify.

“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!” Trump said in a string of tweets.

He added in a subsequent tweet that, “let her testify, or not, and TAKE THE VOTE!”

But the inability to reach a deal with Ford forced Republicans to decide to cancel the hearing or let Kavanaugh testify alone, something which GOP senators were skeptical Grassley would ultimately force the nominee to do.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force House Dems follow Senate action with resolution to overturn IRS donor disclosure guidance Senate votes to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure MORE (R-Maine) told a Maine radio station this week that she didn’t expect the Monday hearing to take place if Ford refused to testify. Grassley also questioned if a Kavanaugh-only hearing would be “fruitful.”

“What would be the purpose of the hearing if Dr. Ford doesn’t want to respond?” Grassley said Tuesday on "The Hugh Hewitt Show."

Kavanaugh, who has denied any wrongdoing, has been at back-to-back sessions at the White House this week to prepare for a potential hearing and privately told senators on Sunday that he wanted to testify.

But a high-profile hearing could carry risks for both Kavanaugh and Republicans. GOP leadership is heading toward a midterm election in November where they are fighting to keep control of Congress and have worried that female voters could turn against them in several key races.

Meanwhile, Democrats could use a televised setting to lambast Republicans for their handling of Ford’s accusations. Though Republicans have said that Ford should be able to speak, they’ve also come under fire for accusing her of being “mixed up” and questioning if her story is credible.

A public hearing would also let Democrats turn Kavanaugh into a piñata — questioning him on everything from his behavior as a teenager, to his personal life and relitigating if he lied to senators during his initial days-long hearings earlier this month.

The decision to cancel Monday's hearing comes less a week after Grassley bowed to intense pressure and announced that the panel would hold a public hearing.

GOP leadership faced calls from multiple factions of their caucus who warned that they wanted to hear from Ford before moving forward with Kavanaugh's confirmation.

Ford came forward with her allegations publicly in The Washington Post on Sunday. She alleges that during a high school party in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, tried to remove her clothes and covered her mouth when she tried to scream.

Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, saying he has "never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone."

Republicans had been discussing how to maintain control of the optics of a hearing with Ford early next week had she agreed to testify, even weighing the possibility of bringing in outside counsel to question her.

There are no female GOP senators on the committee, something that had drawn comparisons to the all-male Judiciary Committee that questioned Anita Hill during her 1991 testimony against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, who she alleged had sexually harassed her.

Democrats have largely been hands off about publicly demanding that Ford testify, instead backing her calls for the FBI to investigate her allegation saying that the decision is up to Ford.

“Senate Republicans are attempting to make Dr. Blasey Ford testify on just a few days’ notice — without having the FBI follow up on her allegations and provide a report first. This strikes us as simply a check-the-box exercise in a rush to confirm Judge Kavanaugh,” eight Senate Democrats wrote in a letter to President Trump on Thursday.

Ford’s allegation marked the biggest threat to Kavanaugh’s nomination since Trump announced him as his pick to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy in early July. And even without a public hearing, it has raised new questions about whether any Democrats will ultimately support him after three backed Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court pick, last year.

Republicans have a two-seat majority in the Senate. They can afford to lose one GOP senator before they need to lean on Democrats for help confirming Kavanaugh.

Several GOP senators remain undecided following the sexual assault allegation. But key swing votes, including Collins and Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe Hill's 12:30 Report – Cohen says Trump knew payments were wrong | GOP in turmoil over Trump shutdown threat | Kyl to resign from Senate at year's end Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Flake asks Daily Show where he can get a blanket emblazoned with his 'meaningless tweets' MORE (R-Ariz.), appeared to signal this week that Ford needed to publicly testify on Monday.

“I think it’s not fair to Judge Kavanaugh for her to not to come forward and testify,” Collins said on Wednesday.

Updated at 6:45 p.m.