On Sunday it looked increasingly likely that a vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination could be delayed — if not derailed entirely — after three Republican senators sided with Democrats in saying they need more information on Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her while they were both teenagers.
Top Republican lawmakers initially came to Kavanaugh’s defense as rumors about a letter accusing the him of sexual misconduct began to circulate in recent days. But three senators broke ranks after Ford went public on Sunday and shared her account with the Washington Post, saying they’re at least open to delaying a committee vote scheduled for Thursday.
Arizona senator Jeff Flake, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Ford “must be heard” before the vote. “I’ve made it clear that I’m not comfortable moving ahead with the vote on Thursday if we have not heard her side of the story or explored this further,” Flake told the Post. “For me, we can’t vote until we hear more.”
Republicans have an 11-to-10 majority on the panel, so Flake could block the committee from advancing Kavanaugh’s nomination by voting with Democrats. In that case, GOP leaders could attempt to bring Kavanaugh’s nomination directly to the Senate floor. But with 51 seats in the Senate, Republicans can only afford to lose two votes, and other senators suggested they’d rather see the proceedings delayed.
When asked if the committee vote should be put off to give Ford a hearing, Senator Bob Corker, who is not on the panel, said, “I think that would be best for all involved, including the nominee. If she does want to be heard, she should do so promptly.”
Later, on CNN, Senator Lisa Murkowski, who is seen as the likeliest GOP “no” vote on Kavanaugh along with pro-choice Republican Susan Collins, said, “Well, I think that might be something they might have to consider, at least having that discussion. This is not something that came up during the hearings. The hearings are now over, and if there is real substance to this, it demands a response. That may be something the committee needs to look into.”
Collins and Murkowski have not indicated how they intend to vote on Kavanaugh, and until Ford came forward, red-state Democrats appeared to be waiting to find that out before announcing their own positions. Senator Doug Jones, an Alabama Democrat, still hasn’t said how he would vote on Kavanaugh, but he joined members of his party in calling for a delay.
Republican senator Lindsey Graham said he would “gladly” hear what Ford has to say — though he doesn’t want to put off the vote. “If the committee is to hear from Ms. Ford, it should be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled,” he said.
On Sunday afternoon, Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley dismissed the “uncorroborated allegations” against Kavanaugh and indicated that the vote would occur on Thursday as planned. But a few hours later, Grassley spokesman George Hartmann said the senator was working on arranging phone calls with Kavanaugh and Ford.
“Given the late addendum to the background file and revelations of Dr. Ford’s identity, Chairman Grassley is actively working to set up such follow-up calls with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford ahead of Thursday’s scheduled vote,” Hartmann said.
Republican senators did not give details on how they wanted to hear from Ford, who initially made the allegations in a letter sent to Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein. She demanded that the FBI reopen its background check into Kavanaugh.
“I agree with Senator Flake that we should delay this week’s vote,” said Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. “There’s a lot of information we don’t know and the FBI should have the time it needs to investigate this new material. Staff calls aren’t the appropriate way to handle this.”
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed in a tweet that there must be an FBI investigation.
The White House responded to Ford’s going public by reissuing the statement Kavanaugh made when the claim first surfaced: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
A lawyer close to the White House told Politico there’s no way they would withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination. “If anything, it’s the opposite. If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something,” the source said. “It’s not even going to slow him down if that’s all she’s got,” he added.
The plan was to have Kavanaugh confirmed in time to have him take his seat when the Supreme Court begins its next session on October 1, which would also remind midterm voters that Trump is making good on his promise to put conservatives on the court.
Conventional wisdom holds that Republicans don’t want to see a high-profile fight over sexual misconduct in the lead up to the midterms, but an outside Trump adviser said that would actually backfire for Democrats. “They’re playing a high-stakes game right now,” the adviser told Politico. “You know there are a lot of people in this country who are parents of high school boys. This is not Anita Hill.”
There are also a lot of people in this country who are parents of high school girls, or who were once high school girls themselves, but their stance on sexual misconduct evidently doesn’t matter.