Official Washington scrambles over Kavanaugh allegations
Republicans abruptly laid plans Monday for a Senate committee hearing at which Brett Kavanaugh and the woman alleging he sexually assaulted her decades ago will testify publicly, as GOP leaders grudgingly opted for a dramatic showdown they hoped would prevent the accusation from sinking his Supreme Court nomination.
Just hours after GOP leaders signaled their preference for private, staff telephone interviews of Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said his panel would hold a hearing next Monday with both of them. Republican aides spoke by phone Monday with Kavanaugh and tried reaching Ford, Grassley said, but Democrats refused to participate in that process.
“To provide ample transparency, we will hold a public hearing Monday to give these recent allegations a full airing,” Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a written statement.
Earlier, GOP leaders had shown no interest in a theatrical spectacle that would thrust Kavanaugh and Ford before television cameras with each offering public — and no doubt conflicting — versions of what they say did or didn’t happen at a party in the early 1980s. With the #MeToo movement galvanizing liberal and female voters and already costing prominent men their jobs in government, journalism and entertainment, a hearing would be a politically jarring prelude to the November elections for control of Congress.
Some things to know about the forces that have swamped the Kavanaugh nomination:
THE STATE OF THINGS
Official Washington was scrambling Monday to assess Kavanaugh’s prospects after his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, revealed her identity to The Washington Post and described an encounter she believes was attempted rape. Kavanaugh came to the White House amid the upheaval, but there was no immediate word on why or whether he had been summoned.
Ford sent her lawyer out to be clear on some key points. “She believes that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped,” Ford’s lawyer, Debra S. Katz, told NBC’s “Today.” Further, Ford is willing to testify publicly, under oath, before the Judiciary Committee, Katz said.
Through the White House, Kavanaugh “categorically and unequivocally” denied the allegation and suggested he, too, is willing to testify under oath.
Ford said she was reluctant to come forward until reporters began contacting her. Kavanaugh, she told the Post, pinned her to a bed at a Maryland party in the early 1980s and tried to remove her clothing and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. She said was around 15 at the time. He would have been around 17.
Kavanaugh attended a private school for boys in Maryland, while Ford attended a nearby school.
The Senate Judiciary Committee as of Monday had not changed its plan for a Thursday vote on whether to recommend Kavanaugh and forward his nomination to the full Senate. Critics have accused the GOP of fast-tracking the process to get Kavanaugh on the court by Oct. 1, the first day of the fall term.
Which way Kavanaugh’s nomination goes — to the high court or down in defeat — is all about the math of votes in the 100-member Senate. The party split goes like this: 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and 2 independents, both of whom caucus with the Democrats. So two Republican votes against Kavanaugh’s confirmation would derail it. Vice President Mike Pence could break a 50-50 tie.
There are more than two Republican senators who are not committing to voting yes. Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a member of the Judiciary Committee, says he is not comfortable holding a vote until Ford’s allegations are heard. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who also is retiring, is not on the panel but said the vote should be postponed until the committee has heard from Ford. Contacted Sunday by CNN, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wouldn’t say whether the vote should be postponed or whether she believes Ford.
Like Collins, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told the network she has questions. Both Collins and Murkowski are considered potential swing votes on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh should both testify under oath before the Judiciary Committee,” Collins tweeted later Monday.
AN END RUN?
The Judiciary Committee is split between majority Republicans and Democrats 11-10. Even if Democrats peel off the one Republican vote to not recommend Kavanaugh to the full Senate, Republicans have another option. There’s nothing preventing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from bringing the nomination directly to the Senate floor.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
Trump stayed publicly silent on Kavanaugh over the weekend but told reporters Monday afternoon that “a little delay” may be needed on the upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee vote.
However, Trump predicted that the judge’s nomination will “work out very well.”
Trump said he wants a “full process” to investigate the allegations, but he also said the nomination was “very much on track.” The president praised Kavanaugh as one of the finest people he’s known, and he called a question about whether Kavanaugh should withdraw “ridiculous.”
Across multiple morning shows Monday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway pushed for Ford to be allowed to testify before lawmakers.
“She should not be insulted. She should not be ignored. She should testify under oath and she should do it on Capitol Hill,” Conway said.
Trump did not say whether he thought Ford should appear before lawmakers. Conway said that decision was up to the Judiciary Committee.
Either way, Trump’s own history could be drawn into the discussion. More than a dozen women have accused him of sexual misconduct, which he denies. Then there’s the “Access Hollywood” tape that repelled many Republicans when it became public during the 2016 election. On it, Trump can be heard boasting of grabbing women by their genitals and kissing them without permission.
Trump apologized but also defended himself, calling his comments “locker-room talk.”
Conspicuously missing from the public remarks of Republicans on Monday was a vociferous defense of Kavanaugh. The restraint was clearly designed to appeal to Collins and Murkowski — or at least, to avoid angering them.
Republicans are certain to try to avoid a public airing of the allegations.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa was trying to arrange separate, follow-up calls with Kavanaugh and Ford before Thursday’s vote — but just for aides to top members. Democrats rejected the idea and have called for the FBI to investigate the allegation as part of a background check.
Trump won 41 percent of votes cast by women nationally in 2016 — despite the “Access Hollywood” tape, his habit of criticizing women’s looks and the fact that his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, is a woman.
But two years later, the president and his party are facing a headwind of opposition from women in the midterm election that the Kavanaugh allegation could amplify.
A record number of women, most of them Democrats, will be on the nation’s ballots in the Nov. 6 congressional elections. In the House, Democrats need to flip 23 Republican-held seats to win the majority. In the Senate, the Democrats would have to gain two seats.
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.
Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman
This story has been corrected to show that Trump won 41 percent, not 42 percent, of the female vote.