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 TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll 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.

Leaving the hearing room, Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn Cornyn Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Trump struggles to reshape Fed Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks MORE (R-Texas) described himself as “optimistic” that Kavanaugh would be confirmed next week.
 
“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 HatchHatch warns 'dangerous' idea of court packing could hurt religious liberty Former Democratic aide pleads guilty to doxing GOP senators attending Kavanaugh hearing How do we prevent viral live streaming of New Zealand-style violence? 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 FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family MORE (Ariz.), the only undecided Republican on the committee.

He, along with centrist Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump GOP senator: 'No problem' with Mueller testifying The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiCain says he 'won't run away from criticism' in push for Fed seat Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed License to discriminate: Religious exemption laws are trampling rights in rural America MORE (Alaska) and retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge GOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump Democrats introduce bill to rein in Trump on tariffs 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 FeinsteinDems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions Five takeaways from Mueller's report Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates 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 Shelby20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Conservatives urge Trump to stick with Moore for Fed Poll: Roy Moore leading Alabama GOP field 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 ThuneTelehealth is calling — will Congress pick up? GOP grows tired of being blindsided by Trump Hillicon Valley: Assange faces US charges after arrest | Trump says WikiLeaks 'not my thing' | Uber officially files to go public | Bezos challenges retail rivals on wages | Kremlin tightens its control over internet 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 GrahamHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars DOJ: Dem subpoena for Mueller report is 'premature and unnecessary' Dems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions 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.