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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

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 TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall 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 CornynInviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Trump endorses Cornyn for reelection as O'Rourke mulls challenge O’Rourke not ruling out being vice presidential candidate 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 HatchThe FDA crackdown on dietary supplements is inadequate Orrin Hatch Foundation seeking million in taxpayer money to fund new center in his honor Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab 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 FlakePoll: 33% of Kentucky voters approve of McConnell Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union MORE (Ariz.), the only undecided Republican on the committee.

He, along with centrist Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOn The Money: Senate Dems to introduce resolution blocking Trump emergency declaration | Banks made billion in extra profits thanks to GOP tax law | IRS analyst charged with leaking Cohen's financial records Senate Dems to introduce resolution blocking Trump's emergency declaration The Hill's Morning Report - What to watch for as Mueller’s probe winds down MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate Dems to introduce resolution blocking Trump's emergency declaration GOP Sen. Collins says she'll back resolution to block Trump's emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump escalates fight with NY Times MORE (Alaska) and retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger RNC votes to give Trump 'undivided support' ahead of 2020 Sen. Risch has unique chance to guide Trump on foreign policy 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 FeinsteinFeinstein says she thinks Biden will run after meeting with him Trump judicial nominee Neomi Rao seeks to clarify past remarks on date rape Bottom Line 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 ShelbyHow the border deal came together Winners and losers in the border security deal GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration 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 ThunePolls: Hiking estate tax less popular than taxing mega wealth, income Will Trump sign the border deal? Here's what we know Key GOP senator pitches Trump: Funding deal a 'down payment' on wall 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 GrahamActing Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange Five takeaways from McCabe’s allegations against Trump FBI’s top lawyer believed Hillary Clinton should face charges, but was talked out of it 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.