Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the California professor accusing him of a decades-old sexual assault will testify publicly Monday about the allegation, throwing his carefully planned Senate confirmation — once seen as a sure bet — into limbo.
Republican leaders late in the day abandoned plans for a preliminary vote later this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee and agreed to reconvene for another confirmation hearing next Monday to take sworn public testimony from Kavanaugh, who denies the allegation, and the woman, Christine Blasey Ford, now a psychology professor at Palo Alto University.
The allegation and the new hearing call into doubt whether Republicans can meet their self-imposed deadline to seat Kavanaugh on the high court by early October. Several key Republicans said they wanted to hear directly from the woman, and Democrats renewed their calls to slow down the process.
Monday’s hearing will probably rekindle unpleasant memories of another high-profile standoff involving sexual misconduct allegations against a Supreme Court nominee. In 1991, Anita Hill’s claims of workplace sexual harassment by then-nominee Clarence Thomas marked a turning point in efforts to combat such behavior and galvanized female voters in the next election. He was eventually confirmed by the Senate.
President Trump told reporters Monday that he wanted to “go through a full process … and hear everybody out,” but dismissed any idea of withdrawing Kavanaugh’s nomination as “ridiculous.”
The president added, “If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay.”
Ford considers the incident an “attempted rape,” according to her attorney, Debra Katz. Ford told the Washington Post that during a pool party in suburban Maryland, a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her down on a bed, tried to remove her clothing and covered her mouth when she yelled for help. She fled when a second boy at the party jumped on the bed, sending all three tumbling off.
Kavanaugh denied the claim. “This is a completely false allegation,” he said in a statement Monday. “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee, initially said he planned to make arrangements to hear from Ford and Kavanaugh through follow-up “phone calls.”
But by Monday afternoon, some Republicans pressured GOP leaders to agree to next week’s public hearing.
“Anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has deserves to be heard, so I will continue working on a way to hear her out in an appropriate, precedented and respectful manner,” Grassley said. By late Monday, he declined to commit to holding a vote by any deadline, refusing to speculate beyond the additional hearing.
Three moderate Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee — had called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to hear testimony from Ford. They were later joined by other Republican senators.
Republican leaders probably need nearly all of their 51 members to support the nomination, meaning any significant dissent would torpedo the confirmation. The votes of three moderate Democrats — Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — are also in play, and all three said Ford needed to be heard.
“We need to respect Professor Ford by listening to her and hearing her story,” Heitkamp said.
Democrats, the vast majority of whom already oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination, were almost universally united in calling for a delay. All 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee said the Thursday vote should be postponed and suggested that the Senate’s work should be delayed until the FBI — which was asked last week to review the matter — can complete its work.
“To railroad a vote now would be a deep insult to the women of America, a lasting scar on the integrity of the Supreme Court,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
Some Republicans defended the nominee. Sen Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said Kavanaugh told him Monday afternoon in a phone call that he wasn’t at the party where Ford said the assault took place.
When asked how Kavanaugh can be so confident when Ford has not shared the exact date, Hatch said he didn’t know, adding that “there is some question whether she is mixed up” on the details. He provided no details to support the assertion that Ford was confused.
“This is a serious charge. It has to be investigated. We need to have hearings,” Hatch said. “The judge, who I know very, very well, is an honest man who said this didn’t happen.”
Katz denied that Ford had any political motive to try to thwart Trump’s nominee.
“No one in their right mind regardless of their motive would want to inject themselves into this process and face the kind of annihilation that she will be subjected to by those who want this nominee to go through,” Katz said. “This is not a politically motivated action.”
The administration is standing by Kavanaugh, who visited the White House on Monday morning. Spokesperson Kerri Kupec recirculated a previous statement in support.
“On Friday, Judge Kavanaugh ‘categorically and unequivocally’ denied this allegation,” she said. “This has not changed. Judge Kavanaugh and the White House both stand by that statement.”
White House advisor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that Ford should be heard and allowed to testify under oath. “This woman should not be ignored and should not be insulted,” Conway said. “She should be heard.”
Republicans accused Democrats — particularly California Sen. Dianne Feinstein — of playing politics in an attempt to derail Kavanaugh’s nomination, noting that Feinstein knew of the allegations weeks ago and referred the matter to the FBI just last week.
“That Democrats have so egregiously mishandled this up until now is no excuse for us to do the same,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 GOP leader. “If Democrats reject the committee handling this swiftly and in a bipartisan way through regular order, then it’s clear that their only intention is to smear Judge Kavanaugh and derail his nomination.”
“If it happened, that is a terrible thing,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “But there’s a process here that seems to be a bit suspicious.… Apparently she hired a lawyer and bought a polygraph in August. Makes me think somebody was thinking it might be public.”
Feinstein has said she did not reveal the allegation because Ford initially did not want to be publicly identified. Over the weekend, Ford went public in an interview with the Washington Post, saying her name was beginning to leak out and her civic duty outweighed her desire for privacy.
“I was asked to hold it confidential and I did as long as I thought it was wise, and then I referred it to the FBI,” she said Monday.