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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 TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments 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 CornynTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Cornyn is most prolific tweeter in Congress so far in 2021 Schumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel 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 HatchBottom line The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Press: Forget bipartisanship — it's dead! 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 FlakeThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  Cindy McCain: Arizona election audit is 'ludicrous' The Republicans' deep dive into nativism MORE (Ariz.), the only undecided Republican on the committee.

He, along with centrist Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee Trump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan Trump drama divides GOP, muddling message MORE (Alaska) and retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Fox News inks contributor deal with former Democratic House member 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 FeinsteinSenate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Lawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' Senate Democrats call on Biden to restore oversight of semiautomatic and sniper rifle exports 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 ShelbyRepublicans embrace Trump in effort to reclaim Senate Top Senate Democrat announces return of earmarks Senate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban 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 ThuneCheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women Trump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan The Memo: Trump's critics face wrath of GOP base 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 GrahamHouse to advance appropriations bills in June, July The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Memo: The GOP's war is already over — Trump won 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.