Kavanaugh’s Rough Path to Supreme Court Reaches Climactic Vote
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Senate is closing in on sending Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, which would seal a conservative majority and close a bitterly fought confirmation process that hinged on allegations of sexual misconduct.
The Senate on Friday morning will take a procedural vote that will determine if he has enough support for approval. If it goes in Kavanaugh’s favor, that would all but ensure he’ll be seated on the court, just a week after his prospects were in doubt. On Saturday afternoon, the chamber would hold a final vote.
The votes will come after senators reviewed supplemental FBI reports on interviews the bureau conducted into women’s claims of sexual assault and misconduct dating to high school and college.
Kavanaugh strongly denied the allegations and his supporters in the Senate said the FBI found no evidence corroborating them. But Democrats argued that the FBI, at the direction of the White House, didn’t go far enough in interviewing potential witnesses and uncovering evidence.
Republicans are looking for Kavanaugh to cement a conservative majority on the court, while Democrats say they’re alarmed he could provide the fifth vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Kavanaugh also could provide the decisive vote to outlaw affirmative action programs and slash environmental regulations, and he might be called on to rule on issues stemming from the special counsel’s investigation of President Donald Trump.
Kavanaugh himself, in an opinion article published on the Wall Street Journal’s website on Thursday night, wrote that he "might have been too emotional" at last week’s hearing and "said a few things I should not have said."
He promised to "keep open mind in every case and always strive to preserve the Constitution of the United States and the American rule of law."
Putting Kavanaugh on the court would give Republicans a victory just weeks before the Nov. 6 midterm election, in which Democrats have a chance to win control of the House and are making a longer shot bid for a Senate majority.
The GOP controls the Senate 51-49 and was counting on support from at least two of three Republican holdouts: Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Democrats have sought to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation since soon after Trump nominated him on July 9. They complained the Trump administration refused to release more than 100,000 pages of documents related to Kavanaugh’s work in President George W. Bush’s White House, and said they found allegations of sexual misconduct to be credible.
Kavanaugh’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in response to allegations of sexual assault left a partisan gulf. Kavanaugh and Democratic senators scowled and shouted at each other as he angrily, and sometimes tearfully, denied the claims.
Assuming final confirmation, Kavanaugh will arrive at the Supreme Court with political baggage at a time when justices could take up some of the nation’s most polarizing issues.
Accusations and Memories
Kavanaugh would become Trump’s second Supreme Court appointee, following Neil Gorsuch, whom Trump selected after Republicans blocked a vote on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016.
The Judiciary Committee last week heard from Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor, who told senators that she’s "one hundred percent" certain Kavanaugh attacked her in 1982 when they were teenagers, describing in detail being held down on a bed at a drunken high school gathering in Maryland.
She described "uproarious laughter" by Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, a friend of Kavanaugh’s who has said he doesn’t recall such an incident. Several other potential witnesses named by Ford said they didn’t remember the gathering she described.
At the urging of Democrats and Flake, the White House agreed to ask the FBI to conduct additional interviews as part of its background report on Kavanaugh.
Trump had previously refused to reopen the FBI inquiry. According to a summary of the investigation released by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s office, the bureau reached out to 11 people and 10 agreed to be interviewed related to allegations from Ford and Deborah Ramirez, who said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a drunken party when they were Yale University students.
“There is no corroboration of the allegations made by Dr. Ford or Ms. Ramirez,” according to the summary from Grassley’s office.
Lawyers for both women said the FBI didn’t interview people who could have corroborated their accounts. For instance, William Pittard, a lawyer for Ramirez, said in a letter that investigators didn’t interview more than 20 people she offered to corroborate her allegation.
The FBI also doesn’t appear to have examined allegations from Julie Swetnick, who said Kavanaugh took part in efforts at parties during high school to get girls intoxicated so that groups of boys could have sex with them. Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, called the investigation illegitimate without an inquiry into Swetnick’s claims.
“The FBI never interviewed many relevant witnesses,” said Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, in a tweet. “There are also thousands of pages of leads from the tip line that received no follow-up. It’s clear the White House only wanted the FBI to go through the motions & that’s what it did.”
But Republicans said the investigation was thorough. “What we know for sure is the FBI report did not corroborate any of the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said at a Thursday news conference. “And the second thing we know for sure is that there’s no way anything we did would satisfy the Democrats.”
Trump decried “harsh and unfair treatment” of Kavanaugh in a Thursday tweet. After earlier calling Ford’s claim "very credible," the president mocked her testimony at a rally Tuesday in Southaven, Mississippi. Referring to Swetnick, Trump said: “This woman had no clue what was going on, and yet she made the most horrible charges.”
The allegations against Kavanaugh, coming at the height of the "Me Too" movement, prompted intense reactions that divided along political and gender lines.
Republicans said rejecting Kavanaugh’s nomination wouldn’t be fair because there was no corroborating evidence. Democrats said Ford and other accusers presented credible evidence that couldn’t be ignored. The claims prompted an outpouring from women on social media who recounted being sexually assaulted and not telling anyone about what had happened.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.