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McConnell says he never considered withdrawing Kavanaugh

McConnell says he never considered withdrawing Kavanaugh
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Criminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot MORE (R-Ky.) says he never once considered pressing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to withdraw from the Senate confirmation process amid the firestorm over allegations of sexual misconduct.

McConnell said in an interview with The Hill on Saturday that it never crossed his mind to urge President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE's embattled nominee to withdraw, saying he instead told GOP colleagues that he was intent on having a floor vote.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee said that McConnell quashed any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawing when they met in his office on Sept. 18, days after Christine Blasey Ford accused the nominee of sexual assault. 

McConnell acknowledged that confirming Kavanaugh “ended up being a lot harder than the Gorsuch nomination,” referring to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump's first nominee to the high court whom the Senate confirmed last year. 

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But the GOP leader said he was intent on pressing ahead, even when some in his conference wavered amid angry protests on Capitol Hill and the additional allegations from two women who came forward days after Ford. 

“I never felt this nomination should be withdrawn at any point. When your reputation is in tatters as a result of unsubstantiated accusations, I thought in fairness to Judge Kavanaugh he was entitled to a vote,” McConnell told The Hill.

“There was never any real serious consideration given to withdrawing,” he said.

McConnell's comments, which came ahead of a final vote to confirm Kavanaugh on Saturday afternoon, echoed those made by the president last week when he told reporters in the Oval Office that he had given "not even a little bit" of thought to selecting a new nominee.

McConnell said he urged his colleagues to be patient when things were looking most bleak, after Ford testified in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week that Fox News’s Chris Wallace proclaimed “a disaster” for Republicans. 

McConnell said he called Trump after Ford testified and advised him it was only halftime and that Kavanaugh’s response could even the score.

“We all thought that Dr. Ford was an impressive witness. I remember talking to the president after her testimony and my suggestion to both of us was, ‘That was a halftime. Let’s wait for the second half,’ ” he recalled telling Trump.

When McConnell called Trump back after Kavanaugh testified for nearly four hours before the Judiciary Committee, he said both felt much better about the nominee's path to confirmation.

“After Judge Kavanaugh testified, we talked again and we were both very enthusiastic,” he said.

McConnell said the key moment of the confirmation process came at a meeting in his office with Republican members of the Judiciary Committee and three undecided Republican colleagues, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBipartisan, bicameral group unveils 8 billion coronavirus proposal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Bipartisan, bicameral group unveils 8 billion coronavirus proposal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms MORE (Alaska) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden eyeing Cindy McCain for UK ambassador position: report Profiles in cowardice: Trump's Senate enablers McSally concedes Arizona Senate race MORE (Ariz.) on Sept. 28, the day after Kavanaugh testified.

“The key meeting was in my office a week ago, yesterday,” he said.

It was at that meeting that McConnell and his colleagues laid out the parameters of the weeklong FBI supplemental investigation into Kavanaugh’s background that would ultimately fail to find any evidence corroborating Ford’s claims and help clinch his confirmation.

McConnell said the Senate decided on the scope of the new probe, not the White House, which has come under criticism from Democrats in recent days for setting its narrow boundaries.

“We discussed it here and it was agreed that it should not last longer than a week, that it should look at the people Dr. Ford mentioned and Debbie Ramirez and anybody that arose out of discussions with her,” he said, referring to a woman who told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a dorm party more than 30 years ago during their freshman year at Yale University.

“It was there that we agreed on the parameters of the FBI investigation. The White House took some grief on that but it wasn’t their decision,” McConnell said.

McConnell said it helped two of the three undecided Republicans, Collins and Flake, to decide to back Kavanaugh after pouring over the 46-page FBI report, which did not find anything to back Ford’s claims. 

Even so, McConnell wasn’t certain how Collins, Flake or Murkowski came to the floor to vote on a key procedural motion Friday morning. But he was adamant that Kavanaugh would come to the floor so the Senate would have to make a decision.

“I don’t think we could have guaranteed the outcome, but what I could guarantee was that we would have a vote,” he said.

And McConnell said he was intent on replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy by the end of the year, no matter what.

Kennedy, a perennial swing vote on the Supreme Court, stepped down from the court at the end of June.

Even if Kavanaugh had been defeated, McConnell said he was not going to let Kennedy’s seat remain vacant into the new Congress, which would be shaped by the outcome of November’s election.

“Had it not succeeded, I was determined to deal with another nominee before this calendar year is out. We were not going to allow this to drag out endlessly. It was not fair to the nominee and it wasn’t a way to a complete filling this vacancy,” he said.

McConnell said he didn’t know how Collins would vote when he had lunch with her in the Senate dining room Friday, shortly before she was scheduled to announce her position on the floor.

“At lunch, I didn’t say anything in particular. I was hopeful that we’d get her vote,” he said. “None of the three of them announced how they were going to vote before we actually had the vote."

“I was optimistic but not totally certain,” he said.

McConnell, who has long had a good relationship with Collins, said she came to her decision independently.

“I would take no credit for where she ended up. I think she did it in a very independent and studious way,” he said. “She’s been under literal assault both in Maine and in the Capitol." 

“It took great courage for her to do what she did,” he said.

He said he was thrilled that his GOP colleagues weren’t “intimidated by the mob that descended on the Capitol and harassed our members at their homes and in the halls.”