Wrestling for advantage, Democratic and Republican senators argued Tuesday over who could, should or would testify at next Monday’s hearing with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who suddenly accused him of a sexual assault just days before he was to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.
Doubts were even raised whether she would appear to give testimony under oath.
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Meanwhile, Kavanaugh was at the White House for a second straight day. President Donald Trump said he was “totally supporting” Kavanaugh and rejected calls that he order the FBI to investigate.
“I don’t think FBI really should be involved because they don’t want to be involved,” Trump said. “If they wanted to be, I would certainly do that. But as you know, they say this is not really their thing. But I think politically speaking, the senators will do a very good job.”
Democrats are demanding that the FBI reopen its background investigation into Kavanaugh so it can check the assertions of Christine Blasey Ford, the outspoken Trump critic that is accusing Kavanaugh of assault.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said an FBI investigation is “essential” to prevent the hearing from becoming merely a “he said, she said affair.”
Republicans responded that reopening the investigation is up to the White House and they are sticking with their plans for a Monday hearing — with or without Ford’s participation.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said on radio’s “Hugh Hewitt Show” said that he’d not yet received confirmation from Ford that she would appear at the hearing, despite several attempts to reach her camp.
“We have reached out to her in the last 36 hours three of four times by email, and we’ve not heard from them, so it kind of raises the question do they want to, do they want to come to the public hearing or not?” Grassley asked. “And the reason we’re having the public hearing is obviously, well, number one is accusations like this deserve consideration and looking into, and that’s what the purpose of the hearing is.”
“And we wouldn’t be having this hearing if it wasn’t for the fact that Dr. Ford told The Washington Post and other people publicly that she wanted to testify. And we also have Judge Kavanaugh. Even before we requested him to testify, he said he was willing to testify. As of Sunday night, I had that message. So we still haven’t heard from Dr. Ford. So do they want to have the hearing or not? We’re delaying the vote, strictly, to get all the facts out on the table,” Grassley said.
A day earlier, Republicans agreed to hold a public Judiciary Committee hearing at which Kavanaugh and Ford have been invited to testify. Party leaders made that concession under pressure from senators demanding that the nominee and his accuser give public, sworn testimony before any vote on Trump’s nominee.
Schumer has suddenly backtracked and said he wants more witnesses, including Mark Judge, who Ford has said was a Kavanaugh friend present during the alleged incident. Limiting the hearing to just Kavanaugh and Ford would be “inadequate, unfair, wrong and a desire not to get at the whole truth,” Schumer said.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, said Judge is needed “specifically and personally as an eyewitness to the occurrence. He should testify under oath.”
Judge told The New York Times that the alleged assault never occurred.
As both sides contemplated the hearing, Republicans were thinking through the optics of a nationally televised showdown between Kavanaugh and his accuser at which all 11 GOP Judiciary Committee members are men.
“There is no discussion of a Plan B” should Kavanaugh’s nomination fail, according to an individual familiar with the nomination process but not authorized to speak publicly. The person said there should be no such discussion until more information about the alleged incident comes to light.
The hearing is certain to be conflicting and emotive. Asked by Hewitt if he was considering including a female counsel who would ask questions, Grassley said, “All those things are being taken into consideration.” He added later, “You’re raising legitimate questions that are still in my mind.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who is on the Judiciary Committee, said Republicans are “naturally” concerned about the optics of having only Republican men question Ford “because there’s always a lot of prejudice in these matters.”
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Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood strongly behind Brett Kavanaugh, saying her claims that he’d sexually attacked her when both were high schoolers “stands at odds” with everything known about the Supreme Court nominee’s background.
McConnell said that “blatant malpractice” by Democrats — not releasing a letter by the accuser until the confirmation process was nearing its end — “will not stop the Senate from moving forward in a responsible manner.”
The remarks by McConnell, R-Ky., seemed aimed at signaling that while Ford will be given her opportunity to detail her allegations under oath, party leaders were not easing off their support of Trump’s nominee.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who received Ford’s letter over the summer, said she didn’t reveal it to protect Ford’s confidentiality.
Kavanaugh spoke with the Judiciary panel’s counsel Monday and gave a “clear and consistent” account of what happened 36 years ago. The person described Kavanaugh as “resolute” and eager to defend himself. Kavanaugh met Monday with White House Counsel Don McGahn and others at the White House and called several senators.
Ford says that at a party when both were teenagers in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and Judge trapped her in a bedroom and Kavanuagh groped her. She said she got away when Judge jumped on him.
Kavanaugh, 53, has vehemently denied the accusation. He said in a statement Monday that he wanted to “refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.”
If the Judiciary committee’s timetable slips, it would become increasingly difficult for Republicans to schedule a vote before midterm elections on Nov. 6 elections, when congressional control will be at stake.
With fragile GOP majorities of just 11-10 on the Judiciary committee and 51-49 in the full Senate, Republican leaders had little room for defectors without risking a humiliating defeat of Trump’s nominee to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Among the GOP defectors was Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Judiciary Committee member who has clashed bitterly with Trump and is retiring from the Senate. Flake said he told No. 2 Senate Republican leader John Cornyn of Texas on Sunday that “if we didn’t give her a chance to be heard, then I would vote no.”
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There was enormous pressure on GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, two moderates who have yet to announce their positions on Kavanaugh and aren’t on the Judiciary Committee.
Collins said that in a telephone conversation with Kavanaugh on Friday he was “absolutely emphatic” that the assault didn’t occur. She said it would be “disqualifying” if Kavanaugh was lying. Murkowski said Ford’s story “must be taken seriously.” Neither Collins nor Murkowski faces re-election this fall.
The Justice Department said in a statement late Monday that the accusation against Kavanaugh “does not involve any potential federal crime.” It said the FBI had forwarded to the White House a letter, evidently from Ford, describing alleged misconduct in the 1980s by Kavanaugh. The statement seemed to suggest that the FBI was not currently investigating it.
The Associated Press contributed to this article