GOP Seeks Kavanaugh Confirmation Soon After Accuser's Testimony
(Bloomberg) -- Senate Republicans are pushing ahead with a plan to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh soon after Thursday’s hearing where he and Christine Blasey Ford will testify about her allegation that he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is preparing a weekend session to run the procedural clock out before a final Senate vote early next week, an unusual move reflecting the high stakes over a confirmation GOP senators want to campaign on in elections just weeks away.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said late Tuesday night that he had asked a prosecutor from Arizona, Rachel Mitchell, to question Ford and Kavanaugh at the hearing.
The committee has scheduled a vote on Kavanaugh for Friday morning. Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat on the panel, called the move an "insult" that "betrays any pretense of listening respectfully and honestly" to Ford’s testimony. Grassley said on Twitter the panel won’t vote if it’s not ready, but that rules require three days’ notice.
"We’re going to be moving forward, I’m confident we’re going to win," McConnell of Kentucky told reporters. "I’m confident that he will be confirmed in the very near future." The Supreme Court’s new term starts Monday.
Democrats are furious about the GOP plan to hold a speedy vote without an FBI investigation of Ford’s and another woman’s accusations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh.
Ford, a California college professor, is set to testify Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The New Yorker magazine quoted the second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, as saying Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a dormitory party that involved drinking when they both were Yale University freshmen. Senate Judiciary staff are seeking to interview Ramirez, according to second-ranking Republican John Cornyn of Texas.
President Donald Trump called Ramirez “all messed up” and “totally inebriated” in remarks to reporters Tuesday at the United Nations. He said the Senate must confirm Kavanaugh to protect the integrity of judicial nominations.
On Tuesday night he tweeted that the "Democrats are playing a high level CON GAME in their vicious effort to destroy a fine person. It is called the politics of destruction."
‘Kiss’ Midterms Goodbye
On Twitter earlier Tuesday, the president pointed to the stakes for Republicans in the Nov. 6 election as the party tries to keep control of Congress. He quoted talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh as saying, “You can kiss the MIDTERMS goodbye if you don’t get highly qualified Kavanaugh approved.”
Third-ranking Senate Democrat Patty Murray of Washington accused Republicans of "jamming Judge Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court no matter what he’s done, without all the facts and as quickly as possible. Republicans need to stop trying to just rush this through."
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he doesn’t know if Thursday’s hearing will affect any senator’s vote, but said he’s "very confident" Kavanaugh ultimately will get confirmed.
"I don’t think any Republican doubts he’s qualified. The only thing you could be concerned about is his character," Graham said.
All 11 Republicans on the committee are men, while four of the 10 Democrats are women. With Mitchell asking Ford the questions, that could take some of the pressure off the GOP senators in a forum that has become a rallying cry for the #MeToo movement.
Grassley, in his statement on Tuesday night, said that Mitchell had "decades of experience prosecuting sex crimes." He added that she was on leave from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix and would serve "as nomination investigative counsel for the majority members on the committee for consideration of this nomination."
"The goal is to de-politicize the process and get to the truth, instead of grandstanding and giving senators an opportunity to launch their presidential campaigns," Grassley said.
‘Rush This Through’
Before Mitchell’s appointment was announced, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York suggested that Republicans "who want to rush this through are afraid to question Dr. Ford themselves."
GOP senators will be able to ask questions if they wish.
A Ford representative, Michael Bromwich, wrote to Grassley on Tuesday to object to the plan to have an outside lawyer lead the GOP questioning and requested a meeting with the lawyer.
A Democratic Senate aide said that when the hearing gets underway, Grassley and the panel’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, would each give five-minute opening statements. Both Kavanaugh and Ford can also make statements, without a time limit. There will be one round of questions for each of them, with senators allotted five minutes each, according to the aide, who was granted anonymity to discuss the matter. Senators can give their time to other senators or to counsel, with Republicans using a counsel to ask some questions of witnesses.
Women and men are sharply split over whether to confirm Kavanaugh. A Quinnipiac poll of voters in the key swing state of Florida showed that women oppose confirmation by a 54 percent to 41 percent margin, while men support him 55 percent to 40 percent.
The New Yorker said Ramirez had hesitated to speak publicly, partly because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged episode and there were “gaps” in her memory. She decided to come forward after “assessing her memories” and consulting with her lawyer, the magazine said.
Trump said Tuesday: “She says, ‘Well it might not be him’ and there were gaps and she said she was totally inebriated and all messed up and she doesn’t know it was him. And it might have been him. Oh gee, let’s not make him a Supreme Court judge because of that?”
The Judiciary panel has announced no plans to hear publicly from Ramirez. Instead, bipartisan Judiciary Committee staff will seek to interview Ramirez privately about her allegation, Cornyn said.
McConnell on Tuesday continued to defend Kavanaugh.
“No matter how loudly my Democratic colleagues try to say otherwise,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, “we have never been and do not wish to be a society in which a single uncorroborated allegation can float out across decades and wield veto power over somebody’s life.”
Republicans narrowly control the Senate, 51-49, and McConnell expressed confidence he can get at least 50 votes in favor of Kavanaugh, which could allow him to be confirmed with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote. Still, some GOP senators -- including Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- insist they need to see how the hearing goes before making a final decision.
Ford alleges that Kavanaugh pinned her down and tried to remove her clothes at a house party in Maryland more than three decades ago, holding his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming.
In a defiant appearance on Fox News Monday, Kavanaugh said he "never sexually assaulted anyone," defending himself against allegations that threaten to unravel his confirmation. He insisted that he’s not withdrawing his nomination and said, "I want a fair process where I can defend my integrity."
"I was never at any such party" as the one described by Ford, he said in the Fox interview. He said he may have met Ford, who went to a different school, but he added, "We did not travel in the same social circle. She was not a friend, not someone I knew."
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