Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Supreme Court associate justice nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, swears in to a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Kavanaugh Nears Key Vote as GOP Leader Optimistic on Approval

(Bloomberg) -- The Senate’s second-ranking Republican said he’s “optimistic” that Brett Kavanaugh has the votes for confirmation, which could come early next week after the Supreme Court nominee’s denial of sexual assault allegations in a hearing that devolved into a shouting match with Democrats.

Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told Fox News on Friday morning he’s “hopeful” that Democrats from swing states would join Republicans in voting for Kavanaugh.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to vote Friday morning, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the full Senate will vote "in the coming days" -- although some key Republicans haven’t said whether they will provide the support needed to confirm President Donald Trump’s second high court nominee.

Three undecided Republican senators -- Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine -- have communicated with leadership via text and in-person conversations, said Cornyn, who expressed optimism Kavanaugh’s backers would ultimately prevail.

"So much of what is done is done person-to-person and I respect their right to make their own announcement, which I’m sure they will do in due course," Cornyn said.

Putting Kavanaugh on the court, which starts its new term Monday, would give Republicans bragging rights ahead of the Nov. 6 election, when Democrats have a chance to win control of the House and perhaps the Senate. Democrats will campaign on the issue too, accusing Republicans of rushing the confirmation without an FBI investigation of Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that Kavanaugh held her down and tried to disrobe her when they were teenagers.

"I was not at the party described by Dr. Ford," said Kavanaugh, who has also been publicly accused of sexual misconduct by two other women. He said he wouldn’t withdraw and added, "This confirmation process has become a national disgrace."

His performance won praise from Trump, who tweeted that his nominee’s testimony to the Judiciary panel Thursday “was powerful, honest, and riveting.” Speaking after Ford gave her first public statements on her allegation, Kavanaugh gave senators a stark choice.

‘Me Too’ Movement

In measured statements that could redefine the "Me Too" movement, Ford said she was "one hundred percent" certain that Kavanaugh was the person who attacked her at a 1982 house party in Maryland. She described "uproarious laughter" from Kavanaugh and his friend who she said witnessed and encouraged the attack. Ford said she was able to escape, but the event was "seared into my memory."

Republicans, who met privately after the daylong hearing to count votes, control the Senate 51-49 and can afford to lose only one member of their party if all Democrats vote in opposition.

The three undecided Republicans -- Collins, Flake and Murkowski -- met separately with Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a potential minority-party vote for Kavanaugh. “We’re still talking," Manchin said afterward. “There’s some concerns that people have and they’re going to try and close the loop.” He also said that he found both Ford and Kavanaugh to be credible.

But in a possible last minute hitch, the American Bar Association urged the Judiciary Committee to proceed with a confirmation vote "only after an appropriate background check into the allegations made by Professor Ford and others is completed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation."

In a letter, the association’s president, Robert Carlson, said that a high court nomination "is simply too important to rush a vote."

Kavanaugh had touted "his unanimous well qualified rating" from the bar association in his testimony.

Kavanaugh Nears Key Vote as GOP Leader Optimistic on Approval

That testimony was marked by repeated flashes of indignation at Democrats on the panel. He scowled, argued with them and jabbed his finger toward the table in front of him.

"This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside, left-wing opposition groups," Kavanaugh told the committee. "This is a circus."

He accused Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont of mocking him and said Dick Durbin of Illinois asked a "phony question" by challenging him to ask the White House for an FBI investigation of Ford’s allegations.

When Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota asked whether Kavanaugh ever drank so much that he couldn’t remember what happened, he responded, "I don’t know, have you?" When she pressed him again, he said, "I’m curious if you have." After a break, he apologized to the senator, who had said earlier that her father was a recovering alcoholic.

‘Unethical Sham’

At one point, GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina erupted in anger. "What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open and hope you win in 2020," he said, pointing angrily at his Democratic colleagues. "You’ve said that, not me."

"When you see Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them that Lindsey said hello because I voted for them," Graham said, referring to Democratic-appointed Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. "I would never do to them what you’ve done to this guy. This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics."

Republicans are looking for Kavanaugh to cement a conservative majority on the court, while Democrats say he could provide the fifth vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Ford, a California psychology professor, told the committee that she’s an independent person and "no one’s pawn." She said the incident has "haunted me episodically as an adult." She said she was "terrified" to testify before the committee and that she "agonized daily" about whether to come forward.

‘No Ill Will’

Kavanaugh said, "I intend no ill will to Dr. Ford and her family." He choked back tears while saying that his 10-year-old daughter, in saying her evening prayers recently, told Kavanaugh’s wife Ashley, "we should pray for the woman."

The nominee was tearful through portions of his opening statement: while expressing gratitude to his friends, saying he had no sexual intercourse until well after high school.

He also said that he drank beer in high school, "but I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out and I did not sexually assault anyone."

Kavanaugh said Ford’s allegation is "refuted by the very people she says were there," including a female friend of Ford’s who says she doesn’t remember the party. He said his calendar for the summer of 1982 "shows all but definitely that I was not there."

Kavanaugh Nears Key Vote as GOP Leader Optimistic on Approval

Other than Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s Republicans stayed mum during the questioning of Ford, each instead having Arizona sex-crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell ask questions during his allotted minutes. The 11 Republicans on the committee are all men.

Ford said the attack occurred at the house party after she went upstairs to use the bathroom. She said she was pushed into a bedroom and onto a bed and that Kavanaugh got on top of her.

"I believed he was going to rape me," Ford said. Kavanaugh put his hand on her mouth to keep her from screaming, she said, and because it was hard for her to breathe, "I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me." She said Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge, who has denied any part in such an attack, jumped on them and she was able to escape.

Asked what she remembers from that night, Ford responded: "The stairwell, the living room, the bedroom, the bed on the right side of the room as you walk into the room -- there was a bed to the right -- the bathroom in close proximity, the laughter -- the uproarious laughter -- and the multiple attempts to escape and the final ability to do so."

Under questioning from Mitchell, Ford said she didn’t know how she got home that night. She said the party took place "somewhere between" her home and the Columbia Country Club, about 7 miles away.

Kavanaugh Nears Key Vote as GOP Leader Optimistic on Approval

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top Democrat, noted that two other accusers came forward in the last several days. They weren’t called to testify.

A second woman, Deborah Ramirez of Colorado, claims Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a drunken party when they were freshmen at Yale. And in the most lurid allegation yet, Julie Swetnick of Washington said in a sworn statement released Wednesday that Kavanaugh took part in efforts during high school to get girls intoxicated so that a group of boys could have sex with them.

"The Swetnick thing is a joke, that is a farce," Kavanaugh said at the hearing.

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