Three Ways Kavanaugh Nomination Could Play Out After Accuser Speaks
Female GOP senators could have big say in what happens next
ANALYSIS | What was an anonymous letter with serious allegations against Supreme Court nominee are now vivid words from an accuser, putting a name and face on the charges and raising new questions about the nomination.
A California professor contends she instantly thought a “stumbling drunk” Kavanaugh might “inadvertently kill” her during a party in the early 1980s while they were in high school, breaking her public silence and handing Republican leaders and the White House tough decisions about what to do next.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Christine Blasey Ford told the Washington Post in an article that published Sunday afternoon. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.” She also claims Kavanaugh and a friend trapped her in a bedroom during the party, with the high court nominee pinning her on a bed while his friend watched and groping her over her one-piece bathing suit. Ford says she was able to escape without injury.
The 51-year-old Ford first voiced her concerns to California Democratic lawmakers, including Senate Judiciary ranking member Dianne Feinstein, who last week cryptically announced she had referred a letter containing information about Kavanaugh to the FBI. Ford also contacted a Post tip line, but the interview marked the first time she had spoken publicly about the alleged incident.
Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, last week teed up a committee vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation for Thursday as he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — and the White House — aim to hold floor votes and have Kavanaugh join the other eight Supreme Court justices by Oct.1.
But Ford’s public allegations could alter those plans. Here are three ways the nomination could play out after the accuser’s first public remarks.
Kavanaugh drops out/White House pulls nomination
A father of two young girls, Kavanaugh might decide to spare his family what inevitably will be a few weeks of scrutiny and discussion about Ford’s charges. He and senators brought up his children repeatedly during his Judiciary testimony earlier this month.
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President Donald Trump and his White House aides might decide to pull the nomination and send up a similarly conservative nominee from Trump’s list of two dozen potential high court nominees that have been vetted by influential conservative groups. For the White House, another scandal might be one too many.
A White House spokesman had not responded to a request for comment on the Post article.
Either scenario would mean the Supreme Court would begin its new term on Oct. 1 without a ninth justice. There would simply not be time for Trump to pick another nominee, and the Judiciary Committee to vet that person and hold another week-long confirmation hearing before any floor vote to confirm the replacement pick before Election Day.
That would mean the court will start a new term split 4-4 along ideological lines.
Grassley slows process
Democratic senators and groups will almost certainly call for the Judiciary chairman, at the very least, to delay’s Thursday’s scheduled vote. Feinstein issued a Sunday statement calling for just that.
The accuser coming forward publicly could put new pressure on Senate Republicans to at least review the accusations before proceeding to a Judiciary Committee vote, which is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
It also could change the tone of some of the criticism of Feinstein, who had withheld details from when fellow Democrats, citing privacy concerns. In agreeing to talk to the Washington Post, Ford is coming forward on her own terms.
Several Democrats already were speaking out Sunday.
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“In evaluating Kavanaugh’s denials, we must take account of the fact that he has been dishonest about so much else,” Norm Eisen, White House ethics czar under former President Barack Obama, said in a tweet. He was echoing Democratic senators’ contentions that Kavanaugh was not truthful at times while under oath before the Judiciary Committee.
Grassley and McConnell have yet to publicly announce any changes to their plan, and spokespersons did not respond to requests for comment.
GOP sticks to plan
Some Republicans last week responded to reports with some of the same details Ford shared with the Post by noting Kavanaugh has denied any such incident ever occurred.
Speaking on CNN a few hours before the Post published its article, Democratic Sen. Doug Jones said he doubts the letter alone would doom the nomination.
“It’s a very serious allegation. But, at this point, it’s, you know, it’s an anonymous letter,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to really test it, unless somebody comes forward with more information.”
The Senate’s female Republican senators, almost all of whom McConnell and Trump must keep in the ‘yes’ column, could decide whether the allegations are tested. What happens next could very well come down to conversations McConnell, Grassley and the White House have with GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi and Deb Fischer of Nebraska.
But if Republican leaders and the Trump team are confident they have enough votes to put Kavanaugh on the highest court in the land, there are ample reasons to think they will carry on with their plans.
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Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.