The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote Friday afternoon on whether to recommend Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to the full Senate, following a day of dramatic testimony by the appellate judge and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused him of sexual assault.
Prospects of Kavanaugh’s confirmation improved when Senator Jeff Flake, the only swing Republican vote on the committee, said Friday he would vote for Kavanaugh after saying the day before he was still undecided.
Still, it is not clear if the Republicans will have enough votes for their nominee after the impassioned testimony Thursday when Kavanaugh angrily denied a charge of sexually assaulting Ford at a party in 1982 when they were teenagers. Both told their stories to the Senate Judiciary Committee during a nearly nine-hour-long hearing.
Who’s voting how
Late Thursday, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee announced he would also vote to confirm Kavanaugh. While he said it took courage for Ford to testify, there was no evidence to corroborate her allegations.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, also said she needs time to decide how she will vote. She is running for re-election in a state that voted heavily for President Donald Trump.
Senator Doug Jones, a first-term Democrat from Alabama, said he is voting no on Kavanaugh’s bid for the Supreme Court. “The Kavanaugh nomination process has been flawed from the beginning,” he said, adding that Ford was credible and courageous.
Bar Association urges FBI probe
The American Bar Association late Thursday urged the Judiciary committee and the full Senate to delay the vote until the FBI has time to do a full background check on the claims made by Ford and other women.
“We make this request because of the ABA’s respect for the rule of law and due process under law,” the ABA letter to committee leadership said. “Each appointment to our nation’s highest court [as with all others] is simply too important to rush to a vote.”
Shortly after the committee convened Friday, it voted 11 to 10 along party lines to reject a motion by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal to subpoena Mark Judge, who Ford said witnessed Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault at a house party when they were high school students in the early 1980s.
“We have a responsibility to subpoena at the very least Mark Judge before we move to vote,” Blumenthal said. “It is our constitutional duty to do everything we can to uncover the truth after hearing yesterday that compelling testimony from Dr. Blasey Ford and we cannot vote in good conscience without hearing at least from Mark Judge.”
“I have never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not in college, not ever,” Kavanaugh told the senators. “I have never done this to her or to anyone.”
He cried as he spoke of how the ordeal has wrecked his family. He presented the senators with what he said were handwritten calendars from 1982 showing his activities and whereabouts. He says they did not include the party. He said he welcomes whatever investigation the committee wants into the incident but would not directly answer whether he would seek an FBI probe.
Kavanaugh admitted a love for drinking beer, but he also pointed to what he says were his outstanding academic record and dedication to high school sports and church.
Hours earlier, Ford told the panel she was “100 percent certain” it was a drunken Kavanaugh who pinned her down on a bed, groped her, tried to take off her clothes, and put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams for help.
Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor chosen by Republican members of the committee to question Ford on their behalf, asked her about timelines and peripheral issues and did not challenge her basic account of sexual assault. But Ford’s account lacked firm corroboration of her claims by others at the party.
Later Thursday, Mark Judge, a Kavanaugh friend whom Ford identified as being present during the assault, issued a statement saying, “Brett Kavanaugh and I were friends in high school, but we have not spoken directly in several years. I do not recall the events described by Dr. Ford in her testimony. … I never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley defended Kavanaugh and blamed Democrats for not disclosing the accusations earlier.
“As part of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the FBI conducted its sixth full field background investigation of Judge Kavanaugh since 1993, 25 years ago. Nowhere in any of these six FBI reports … was there a whiff of any issue, any issue at all related to anyway inappropriate sexual behavior.”
But Democrats did not buy Kavanaugh’s self-portrayal of an angelic choir boy. Senator Patrick Leahy pointed to Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook page and its jokes about heavy drinking and sex.
Republican Senator Lindsay Graham lost his temper during his time to question Kavanaugh. He accused Democrats of an “unethical sham” and warning Republicans that if they vote not to confirm Kavanaugh, they would legitimize “the most despicable thing I’ve ever seen in my time in politics.”
Trump stands by his man
President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. He tweeted that the judge showed Americans exactly why he was chosen.
“His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!” Trump’s tweet did not mention Ford.
Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, Ilya Shapiro, says it is unclear if anyone came out ahead after Thursday’s testimony.
“We’re at a dangerous point because if we have no more evidence and Kavanaugh’s rejected, that sets the precedent that accusations are enough to derail … and if he’s approved, then still there will be people who think that he’s a sexual assaulter or rapist and there he is sitting at the Supreme Court.”