Kavanaugh, Ford give stirring testimony. Now senators must decide

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh offered a resounding defense of his character on Thursday as he angrily denied the charges of sexual assault made against him in equally compelling testimony earlier that day by Christine Blasey Ford.

Ford's harrowing account of an alleged assault against her by Kavanaugh when they were in high school — and his vehement and emotional denial — created a roller coaster day on Capitol Hill. 

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Kavanaugh's confirmation looked doomed after Ford's testimony, and GOP senators appeared ashen-faced at times when she asserted that she had vivid recollections of Kavanaugh covering her mouth to stifle her screams at a summer party.

But Kavanaugh’s emotional performance seemed to bolster the resolve of many Republicans, suggesting his confirmation could still very well be won in a Senate controlled by the GOP with a narrow 51-49 margin.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage MORE tweeted his approval of Kavanaugh shortly after his testimony ended.

"Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!" the president wrote on Twitter.

 
“I think it’s time to vote. The longer that the nomination remains open we know that more and more of these scurrilous, anonymous and uncorroborated allegations will be made,” Cornyn told reporters.
 
Kavanaugh left the hearing room holding his wife’s hand and escorted by about a dozen plain-clothes and uniformed security officers.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese Trump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom MORE (R-Utah), a senior member of the panel, said Kavanaugh helped save his nomination by responding forcefully to questions from Democratic senators and choking up at times when remembering the lifelong female friends who have stood by his defense.

“I think he’s saving it himself, he’s really good,” Hatch said. “He came across very, very well.”

“It was what someone who’s falsely accused ought to be like,” he added.

But the result after nearly eight hours of testimony was far from a slam-dunk win for Kavanaugh.

“There is likely to be as much doubt as certainty leaving this room today,” said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeHow to survive an impeachment Are Senate Republicans certain that Trump can return to office? Jeff Flake calls Trump's language 'authoritarian' MORE (Ariz.), the only undecided Republican on the committee.

He, along with centrist Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows Congress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski warns against rushing to conclusions on Trump impeachment GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump   MORE (Alaska) and retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (Tenn.), are the four Republican swing votes who are expected to decide the nomination.

Kavanaugh’s passionate denials stood in contrast to his interview earlier in the week with Fox News Channel’s Martha MacCallum, which was criticized as robotic and lacking emotion.

Kavanaugh went on offense right away and blasted senators for letting him twist in the wind for days after Ford’s allegations, in which she says he attempted to sexually assault her, first surfaced.

He blasted the confirmation proceedings as “a national disgrace” and accused senators of letting the chamber’s constitutional role of “advice and consent” become twisted into a mission to “search and destroy.”

But Ford appeared to be just as compelling as she testified before the committee for nearly four hours.

When Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSchiff should consider using RICO framework to organize impeachment We need answers to questions mainstream media won't ask about Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Syria fallout MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, asked if there was any chance Ford may have mistaken someone else for Kavanaugh, she responded “absolutely not.”

Asked how she could be sure of her memory of Kavanaugh’s alleged attack, Ford responded “The same way that I’m sure I’m talking to you right now — basic memory functions.”

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyMeet Trump's most trusted pollsters Contractors fight for pay from last shutdown — and the next one Trump signs stopgap measure, funding government through November MORE (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, acknowledged that “I thought she looked credible” and Cornyn told reporters said he “found no reason to find her not credible.”

The outside counsel that Republicans hired to ask Ford questions, Rachel Mitchell, a sex crimes prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, was careful in her handling of the witness and didn’t aggressively attack her credibility.

Fox News host Chris Wallace called the start of the hearing “a disaster” for Republicans.

Republican leaders at lunchtime demurred on the question of whether Kavanaugh would have enough votes to pass when he comes to the floor next week.

Asked if he thought Kavanaugh would secure confirmation next week, Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneImpeachment threatens to drown out everything Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump   Embracing President Mike Pence might be GOP's best play MORE (S.D.) told reporters, “Look, I think this ought to come down to evidence.”

“It ought to come down to facts, and I don’t know that there’s anything in terms of facts or evidence that have changed,” he said.

After hearing Kavanaugh’s side of the story, Thune told reporters that Ford’s testimony had not upheld the burden of proof.

“The question of whether or not is was him, there just isn’t the evidence to support that,” Thune said of Ford’s accusation against Kavanaugh. “The burden of proof had to be reached and I don’t think they reached that burden.”

But the momentum began to swing back to Kavanaugh’s side after his wife led him by the hand into the hearing room to dispute Ford’s charges.

The impact of his testimony had a perceptible effect on the faces of Republican senators who listened to him intently with frowns and furrowed brows.

Cornyn's eyes appeared to mist up as Kavanaugh choked up talking about female friends who have stood by him in recent days.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Democrats to offer resolution demanding Trump reverse Syria decision Army officer calls Syria pullback 'a stain on the American conscience' MORE (R-S.C.) exhaled deeply and raised his eyebrows with empathy after the nominee finished his opening statement.

Republicans said Kavanaugh’s performance was strong enough to go ahead with a committee vote Friday, which would set him up for a final confirmation vote on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Asked if Kavanaugh would get confirmed, Hatch said, “Oh yeah. It may be a party-line vote but he’ll get confirmed.”

 

A Senate Republican aide said the committee meeting to vote on Kavanaugh is still scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday.

-Updated 7:53 p.m.