Trump’s pick for Kavanaugh’s old court seat grilled over date-rape comments

Date rape was the main topic of debate Tuesday at a Senate confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSupreme Court hands Virginia Democrats a win in gerrymandering case Supreme Court hands Virginia Democrats a win in gerrymandering case Supreme Court rules defendants can be tried on state and federal charges, potentially impacting Manafort MORE's possible successor on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Neomi Rao, who serves as President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE’s regulatory czar, was grilled by Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee about controversial writings that surfaced after her nomination, namely a 1994 opinion piece for The Yale Herald in which she appeared to argue that women are partially to blame for sexual assault.

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Rao wrote at the time that if a woman “drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was a part of her choice.”

The Senate discussion, which was tense at times, came less than six months after the fierce debate over allegations that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted women decades ago. He has consistently denied those accusations.

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGOP senators caught off guard by Shanahan withdrawal GOP senators caught off guard by Shanahan withdrawal Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate MORE (R-Iowa), a sexual assault survivor and the only GOP woman on the committee, said at Tuesday's hearing that Rao’s writings gave her pause.

“I’ve said time and time again that we need to change the culture around sexual violence, from our college campuses to the U.S. Olympic Committee to our military and beyond,” she said. “And a large part of this is ensuring that young women feel comfortable sharing the stories and experiences that they’ve endured and that they are given a chance to be heard.”

Ernst then asked Rao if she believes rape is wrong and who is at fault when a sexual assault occurs.

“A victim of a horrible crime is not to blame and the person who commits those crimes should be held responsible,” Rao said.

She added that she’s had a lot of experiences since college and wouldn’t express herself in the same way today.

Rao is administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a subagency tasked with reviewing and approving agency actions. She was confirmed by the Senate in July 2017 by a mostly party-line 54-41 vote.

The focus on her college writings come at a time when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) faces mounting pressure to resign after a photo surfaced showing a man wearing blackface standing next to another person dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe on Northam's medical school yearbook page from 1984.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions MORE (D-Ill.) on Tuesday asked Rao about whether a person's actions from decades ago affect their ability to serve in public office.

“What do you think should be the level of accountability of a person seeking a position such as you are for the things that they’ve said and done even 20 years ago?” he asked.

Roa said it would be “presumptuous to comment on how this committee does its advice and consent function.”

Her college writings from 1994 to 1996, first reported by BuzzFeed News, also included reference to race as a “hot, money-making issue” and the fight for LGBT rights part of “trendy political movements.”

Rao told senators that she cringes when she looks back at some of the language she used.

“I was young. It’s over two decade ago now, but I think I was responding to things that were happening on campus at that time," she said. "And in the intervening two decades, I like to think that I have matured as a thinker and writer, and indeed as a person."

Several Republicans on the committee came to her defense.

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions MORE (Utah) argued the standard should be whether her writings show an inability to be impartial.

“That’s not what we’re dealing with here,” he said, adding that people should be allowed to say they were young and saw things differently.

“Here’s the deeper issue: Judicial nominations have become a bloodsport, and we’ve convinced ourselves that because judges are important it’s all fair. And that’s not right and shouldn’t be the case here,” he said.

In her current role, Rao has been on the front lines of Trump’s push to roll back regulations, particularly those enacted during the Obama administration.

Her post is viewed as a red flag by Democrats, who expressed concern Tuesday that rules she worked to repeal could face legal challenges that end up before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The regional appeals court is viewed as the nation’s second most powerful due to the cases that come before it. The court hears challenges to regulatory actions taken by the federal government.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDemocrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account MORE (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member, asked Rao to commit to recusing herself from all cases involving the Trump administration’s regulatory moves.

Rao said that if confirmed she would look carefully at the standards for recusal, consult with her colleagues and follow the precedent and practices of the D.C. Circuit.