Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court hit a serious roadblock Sunday night, as GOP Senate Judiciary Committee member Jeff Flake said he is uncomfortable voting to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination later this week after the nominee’s sexual assault accuser went public.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who is not a member of the committee but whose vote is critical to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, similarly said late Sunday that the committee should pause.
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Flake (R-Ariz.) said he needs to hear more about the allegations raised publicly by Christine Blasey Ford on Sunday in a Washington Post article, and said other Republicans share his view. Flake is one of 11 Republicans on the narrowly divided panel and without his support, the committee cannot advance his nomination. However, GOP leaders could try to bring Kavanaugh‘s nomination directly to the Senate floor.
“If they push forward without any attempt with hearing what she’s had to say, I’m not comfortable voting yes,” Flake said. “We need to hear from her. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.”
Asked if the committee vote should be delayed to hear out Ford, Corker replied: “I think that would be best for all involved, including the nominee. If she does want to be heard, she should do so promptly.” Republicans control just 51 seats in the Senate, so the comments of the two retiring senators are highly consequential.
Flake declined to address whether Kavanaugh should withdraw his nomination: “I’m not responding to that question at all.” The retiring Arizona Republican has long been a thorn in the side of President Donald Trump, refusing to support his campaign in 2016 and often critiquing his policies and rhetoric. In return, Trump has repeatedly mocked Flake.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is also seeking more information on Ford’s account that Kavanaugh groped her, tried to pull off her clothes and covered her mouth when she tried to scream at a party in Maryland more than three decades ago. A spokesman for Grassley said that given the new information about Kavanaugh and Ford revealing her identity after the allegations were first revealed anonymously, “Grassley is actively working to set up … follow-up calls with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford ahead of Thursday’s scheduled vote.”
It remains unclear whether Ford wants to appear before the committee or whether Grassley wants her to testify. Flake said he was not sure what forum would be appropriate: “I don’t know what she’s comfortable with … we need to hear from her.”
Another Judiciary Committee Republican, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, echoed Flake’s view that Ford should be heard by the Senate if she wants to. He did not, however, call for the panel vote to be delayed: “If the committee is to hear from Ms. Ford, it should be done immediately.”
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, an undecided Republican moderate, spoke to Kavanaugh on Friday after the allegations were raised anonymously. She told CNN that Kavanaugh “denied” the allegations and said she was discussing whether the hearing should go forward with her Senate colleagues.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had planned to confirm Kavanaugh before the new session of the Supreme Court on Oct. 1, but a spokesman offered no new timetable on Sunday afternoon.
Ford wrote a letter to a Democratic congresswoman detailing the incident, which were then passed along to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and gradually leaked out over the past week. Feinstein said on Sunday afternoon that Ford’s allegations “bear heavily on Judge Kavanaugh’s character.” She is one of a growing number of Democrats calling on the nomination process to be stopped and a Thursday committee vote to be delayed.
“To railroad a vote now would be an insult to the women of America and the integrity of the Supreme Court,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Ford told the Post that at the time of the alleged assault she thought Kavanaugh “might inadvertently kill me.”
“He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing,” she said.
Ford, 51, is a professor at Palo Alto (Calif.) University and she graduated from the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Md., in 1984. (Kavanaugh graduated from Georgetown Prep in 1983.) She told the Washington Post she took a polygraph regarding the incident, which the paper reviewed, and she passed.
Republicans are now left wondering whether Grassley will move forward with a committee vote this week without hearing testimony from Ford. And it is still unclear if undecided moderate Collins or fellow moderate Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will support Kavanaugh, though GOP leaders have been supremely confident in his confirmation prospects until Sunday.
Judiciary Committee Republicans sent out a memo criticizing “Democrats’ tactics and motives” and calling on Feinstein to release “the letter she received back in July so that everyone can know what she’s known for weeks.” And four people close to the White House said they expected Republicans to question the accuser’s vague memories and why Feinstein, up for reelection in November with the Democratic base hungry for anti-Trump fodder, sat on the accusation for months.
Three of those people also said they expect the president to go after Kavanaugh’s accuser rather than to turn on the judge. They noted that Trump has done so before, not just denouncing his own accusers but also attacking those of others, notably, failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
A lawyer close to the White House said the nomination will not be withdrawn.
“No way, not even a hint of it,” the lawyer said. “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 White House issued the same statement on Kavanaugh’s behalf that it did last week: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.” The White House began hearing rumors of the new allegations last week, and White House counsel Don McGahn received a redacted version of the letter Friday and sent it to Capitol Hill, according to a person familiar with the events.
On Sunday morning before Ford’s story emerged, Senate Republicans pledged to move forward with President Donald Trump’s pick, in part because Ford’s allegations have been anonymous until now. Just hours before Ford went public, Sen. John N. Kennedy (R-La.) of the Senate Judiciary Committee predicted Kavanaugh will win narrow confirmation.
“They’ve had this stuff for three months; if they were serious about it, they should have told us about it,” Kennedy said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think every Republican will vote for Judge Kavanaugh. I think at least two, and maybe more, Democrats will” vote for him.
Kavanaugh needs 50 votes to be approved, meaning GOP leaders are relying on either Murkowski or Collins to break the logjam. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) was just appointed to the Senate to replace the late John McCain, giving the GOP one more pro-Kavanaugh vote.
Ford had no intention of going public with her accusations and requested them to be confidential. She told the Post that she escaped after Mark Judge, a friend of Kavanaugh’s, jumped on top of them. Judge has denied that the incident occurred.
Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who has not met with Kavanaugh, plans to bring up the claims if he is able to sit down with the nominee this week and said on CNN that his Democratic colleagues should have brought up the matter earlier in the confirmation process, at least in private meetings.
“These disturbing allegations deserve a thorough vetting and the American people deserve answers. We have to hit pause on this process until we have more information,” Jones said on Twitter after Ford went public.
Jones is among a small group of undecided Democrats, a list that also includes Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin voted for Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch last year. Manchin is requesting a second meeting with Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh has passed numerous FBI background checks, but the letter was only added to his file after Feinstein referred it to the Department of Justice. Now, senators will all have access to the letter now that it has been added to background files.
“I support Mrs. Ford’s decision to share her story, and now that she has, it is in the hands of the FBI to conduct an investigation. This should happen before the Senate moves forward on this nominee,” Feinstein said Sunday afternoon.
Darren Samuelsohn and Eliana Johnson contributed to this report.