Kavanaugh faces crucial vote, White House eyes GOP senators
WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh faced a crucial vote Friday as a Senate panel decides whether to move his nomination on to the full Senate a day after he adamantly denied sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, who insisted she’s “100 percent” certain he did.
Meanwhile, there were signs the remarkable testimony before the panel – in which Kavanaugh angrily declared his innocence and Ford calmly recounting the moment in which she says he attacked her – had registered negatively with two organizations whose support Kavanaugh had earlier received.
The American Bar Association urged the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate to delay the vote until the FBI could do a full background check on the assault claims – something President Donald Trump has refused to order.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed that Friday, telling reporters that Kavanaugh has already “been through six separate background investigations by the FBI.”
Late Thursday, the magazine of the Jesuit religious order in the United States withdrew its endorsement of Kavanaugh, saying the nomination was no longer in the interests of the country and “should be withdrawn.”
“If Senate Republicans proceed with his nomination, they will be prioritizing policy aims over a woman’s report of an assault,” the America magazine editors wrote. “Were he to be confirmed without this allegation being firmly disproved, it would hang over his future decisions on the Supreme Court for decades and further divide the country.”
The magazine’s reversal is significant given Kavanaugh has repeatedly cited his Roman Catholic faith and his years as a student at the Jesuit-run Georgetown Prep school in Maryland.
The White House said it was engaging with wavering Republican senators, but provided few details, as Trump publicly stood by his nominee.
“His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting,” he tweeted late Thursday. “The Senate must vote!”
Thursday’s testimony appears to have only sharpened the partisan divide over Trump’s nominee. Republicans praised Ford’s bravery in coming forward, but many of them said her account won’t affect their support for Kavanaugh.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, where the initial vote on Kavanaugh will be held, is narrowly split with an 11-10 Republican majority. Democrats are expected to oppose the nominee. But even if the panel deadlocks on whether to recommend the judge for confirmation, the full Senate could start taking procedural votes Saturday on Kavanaugh, setting up a final vote as soon as Tuesday.
“We’re going to move forward,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as he exited a private late night strategy session with Republican senators. “The committee is going to vote.”
Of the 11 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, only the vote of GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona remains in doubt. The retiring senator, who has stayed quiet in recent days, told reporters late Thursday, “this isn’t easy.”
Flake said the marathon hearing left him “with as much doubt as certainty.” He said, “We just do the best we can.”
At the daylong session Thursday, Ford and Kavanaugh both said the event and the public controversy that has erupted 36 years later had altered their lives forever and for the worse – perhaps the only thing they agreed on during a long day of testimony that was a study in contrasts of tone as well as substance.
Coming forward publicly for the first time, Ford, a California psychology professor, quietly told the nation and the Senate Judiciary Committee her long-held secret of the alleged assault in locked room at a gathering of friends when she was just 15. The memory – and Kavanaugh’s laughter during the act – was “locked” in her brain, she said: “100 percent.” Hours later, Kavanaugh angrily denied it, alternating a loud, defiant tone with near tears as he addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“You have replaced ‘advice and consent’ with ‘search and destroy,” he said, referring to the Constitution’s charge to senators’ duties in confirming high officials.
Repeatedly Democrats asked Kavanaugh to call for an FBI investigation into the claims. He did not.
“I welcome whatever the committee wants to do,” he said.
Republicans are reluctant for several reasons, including the likelihood that further investigations could push a vote past the November elections that may switch Senate control back to the Democrats and make consideration of any Trump nominee more difficult.
Across more than 10 hours, the senators heard from only the two witnesses. Ford delivered her testimony with steady, deliberate certitude. She admitted gaps in her memory as she choked back tears and said she “believed he was going to rape me.” Kavanaugh entered the hearing room fuming and ready to fight, as he angrily denied the charges from Ford and other women accusing him of misconduct, barked back at senators and dismissed some questions with a flippant “whatever.”
“You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit, never,” he said.
Trump nominated the conservative jurist in what was supposed to be an election year capstone to the GOP agenda, locking in the court’s majority for years to come. Instead the nomination that Republicans were rushing for a vote now hangs precariously after one of the most emotionally charged hearings Capitol Hill has ever seen. Coming amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct at the top of powerful institutions, it exposed continued divisions over justice, fairness and who should be believed. And coming weeks before elections, it ensured that debate would play into the fight for control of Congress.
Wearing a blue suit as Anita Hill did more two decades ago when she testified about sexual misconduct by Clarence Thomas, Ford, a psychology professor, described what she says was a harrowing assault in the summer of 1982: How an inebriated Kavanaugh and another teen, Mark Judge, locked her in a room at a house party as Kavanaugh was grinding and groping her. She said he put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams.
“I believed he was going to rape me,” she testified, referring to Kavanaugh.
Judge has said he does not recall the incident and he reiterated that point in a letter to the committee released late Thursday.
When the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, asked how she could be sure that Kavanaugh was the attacker, Ford said, “The same way I’m sure I’m talking to you right now.” Later, she told Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that her certainty was “100 percent.”
Asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., for her strongest memory of the alleged incident, Ford, said it was the two boys’ laughter.
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” said Ford, who is a research psychologist, “the uproarious laughter between the two.”
An angry Kavanaugh, who testified after Ford, declared: “My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed.”
He lashed out over the time it took the committee to convene the hearing after Ford’s allegations emerged, singling out the Democrats for “unleashing” forces against him.
“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” he said. He mocked Ford’s allegations – and several others since – that have accused him of sexual impropriety. He scolded the senators saying their advice-and-consent role had become “search and destroy.”
Even if senators turn vote down his confirmation, he said, “you’ll never get me to quit.”
Kavanaugh, who has two daughters, said one of his girls said they should “pray for the woman” making the allegations against him, referring to Ford. “That’s a lot of wisdom from a 10-year-old,” he said chocking up. “We mean no ill will.”
The judge repeatedly refused to answer senators’ questions about the hard-party atmosphere that has been described from his peer group at Georgetown Prep and Yale, treating them dismissively.
“Sometimes I had too many beers,” he acknowledged. “I liked beer. I still like beer. But I never drank beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone. “
— Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick, Juliet Linderman, Padmananda Rama, Matthew Daly, Julie Pace and AP photographers J. Scott Applewhite and Carolyn Kaster contributed to this report.