Things to watch for as Kavanaugh and Ford testify

Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
(Saul Loeb / AFP-Getty Images)

Does the hearing take place and does everyone show up?

The hearing starts at 7 a.m. Pacific time, and all signs point to it moving forward. But both sides are nervous, so there is always the chance of a last-minute complication.

Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when both were in high school, was initially reluctant to come forward and only agreed to appear under certain conditions. Late Wednesday her team submitted her testimony for the record and said she was ready for the hearing.

Kavanaugh has said he is eager to defend himself. Even so, some Republicans have worried privately that he could not survive the spectacle of a public hearing.


Is anything truly new revealed?

No one has heard directly from Ford since she gave an interview to the Washington Post, and there are a lot of missing details about the incident, including what day the party took place and who all of attendees were. In her prepared statement, Ford said she wished she could recall some of those details, but that the key moment — the alleged attack — was “seared into my memory.”

Kavanaugh, in his interview this week with Fox News, repeated his denials of any misconduct. But senators are likely to press him more directly on aspects of his personal life, including whether during his student years he drank so heavily that he does not remember certain incidents.

Will senators go too far in their comments?

Republicans are on high alert about how the hearing will appear to potential voters at home. Most of them say they will leave the questioning to the female counsel they hired to question Ford and Kavanaugh.

Democrats, including some expected to run in 2020 for the party’s presidential nomination, may use the platform to raise their profile. Unlike the Republican senators, the Democrats plan to ask their own questions. Some Democratic strategists worry the senators could push so hard in questions about Kavanaugh’s private life that they could cause a backlash with the public.

How hard does the GOP attorney question each side?

Will the committee’s specially recruited outside counsel — Rachel Mitchell, a sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona — aggressively question Ford and seek to raise doubts about her story while the 11 Republicans senators, all men, sit silently? Will she also ask probing questions of Kavanaugh?

Does Jeff Flake, the one clearly undecided member of the committee, tip his hand?

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is retiring, was among the first senators to call for a hearing into Ford’s allegations. In a Senate speech Wednesday, he implored his colleagues to approach the hearing thoughtfully. But he didn’t give a clear indication of how he plans to vote.

Who comes off as more credible?

This is the root of the entire hearing. Senators from both parties acknowledge that the chances of getting a clear resolution of the disagreement between Ford and Kavanaugh are slim.

Ford has not been seen or heard in public since her story grabbed the national spotlight less than two weeks ago. And unlike Kavanaugh, she is not a public figure used to testifying under pressure of hostile questions.

Kavanaugh will need to explain the two starkly different portrayals he has offered of his youth: a hard-partying, heavy-drinking frat boy or a church-going athlete devoted to studies.

If both accounts seem credible, senators will have to decide which side bears the burden of proving its case — an issue the Senate leaves up to each member to decide. Unlike a court, where the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, a confirmation is more like a job interview. It’s unclear how the remaining undecided senators will decide if, as Flake predicted it may, the process ends with the facts still in doubt.

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