Trump sees 'a little delay' for Kavanaugh; Democrats dig in
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump grudgingly opened the door Monday to "a little delay" in a Senate vote on Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh, even as top Republicans fought to prevent the accusation that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted a fellow high school student from morphing into a mortal blow to the nomination.
Kavanaugh and his now-public accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, each indicated a willingness to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the alleged incident. But Republican leaders showed no interest in a public spectacle that would thrust Kavanaugh and Ford before television cameras with each offering dramatic — and no doubt conflicting — versions of what they say did or didn't happen in the early 1980s.
Kavanaugh, 53, whose confirmation had until now seemed to be on a smooth trajectory, was seen arriving at the White House on Monday. But Trump said he did not meet with his nominee and declined to say whether Kavanaugh had offered to withdraw, dismissing the question as "ridiculous."
Republican Judiciary Committee aides planned to talk to Kavanaugh by telephone Monday evening about Ford's allegations and hoped for a phone interview with Ford on Tuesday, said a person who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss arrangements that weren't made public.
But top Senate Democrats said their party's staff would not participate. Dianne Feinstein, the committee's top Democrat, cited the allegations' "enormity and seriousness" and said the FBI should do the interviewing and let the committee decide whether to seek additional information.
Ford, now a psychology professor at California's Palo Alto University, told The Washington Post that an intoxicated Kavanaugh corralled her into a bedroom at a Maryland party when she was around 15 and Kavanaugh was about 17, held her down on a bed, tried to undress her and held his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. She said she got away when a companion of Kavanaugh jumped on him.
Kavanaugh said in a statement distributed by the White House Monday that he wanted to "refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity."
A public hearing, coming as the #MeToo movement has galvanized liberal and female voters and cost prominent men their jobs, would be a politically jarring prelude to November elections for control of Congress. Republican lawmakers would not welcome it.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said that Ford "deserves to be heard" but in "an appropriate, precedented and respectful manner." He said the normal process for digesting late-breaking information would involve phone calls with "at least" Kavanaugh and Ford.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., lauded Grassley for planning to handle the episode "by the book," including bipartisan interviews of Kavanaugh and Ford. No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas commended Grassley for seeking a procedure that "respects confidentiality."
The committee has been scheduled to vote Thursday on the nomination with a vote by the full Senate soon after and, Republicans hope, Kavanaugh taking his place on the court for its new term on Oct. 1. If that timetable slips, it would become increasingly difficult for Republicans to schedule a vote before the Nov. 6 elections.
But Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer of New York said it would be "a deep insult to the women of America" if Grassley did not postpone Thursday's meeting. And in an unusually personal swipe, Schumer said McConnell was showing "unmitigated gall" to oppose delaying Kavanaugh's nomination after refusing for most of 2016 to consider President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the court after Antonin Scalia died.
At the White House, Trump said, "If it takes a little delay, it will take a little delay." That remark seemed his latest in which he's veered from messaging by congressional leaders.
Trump called Kavanaugh "an outstanding intellect," and he assailed Democrats for not bringing up the assault question sooner. But he said the confirmation remained on track: "We want to go through a process. We want to make sure everything is perfect."
Kavanaugh is currently a judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, widely viewed as the nation's second most powerful court.
Until Monday, Trump had remained silent about the allegations against Kavanaugh. The president himself has faced accusations of affairs and unwanted advances — not to mention his taped comments about groping women that emerged shortly before he was elected in 2016.
All eyes were on potential defections by Republicans, whose narrow Senate majority affords them little margin for error. They control the Judiciary panel by 11-10 and the full Senate 51-49.
Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a Judiciary Committee member who has clashed bitterly with Trump and is retiring from the Senate, said he was "not comfortable" voting for Kavanaugh at present. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., another retiring Trump critic who is not on the committee, said he favored a delay.
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 both Kavanaugh and Ford should testify under oath to the committee but she didn't say whether the committee vote should be postponed. Neither senator faces re-election this fall.
Debra S. Katz, Ford's attorney, said the accuser was ready to testify publicly to the Judiciary panel but said senators hadn't contacted her about how that might occur. Katz said Ford, who revealed her identity Sunday in an interview with The Washington Post after weeks of refusing to do so, believes "she would have been raped" by Kavanaugh had he not been drunk.
"No one in their right mind regardless of their motives would want to inject themselves into this process and face the kind of violation that she will be subjected to by those who want this nominee to go through," Katz said on NBC's "Today," explaining Ford's initial reluctance to step forward.
All 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee asked Grassley on Monday to postpone the panel's vote to give the FBI more time to investigate Ford's accusations. Citing what they say was Kavanaugh's misleading testimony to the committee on abortion and other issues as a White House aide to President George W. Bush, their letter cited serious questions about Kavanaugh's "record, truthfulness and character."