President Donald Trump won’t withdraw Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, a White House official said Sunday, as Democrats sought to delay this week’s planned Senate committee vote after a woman said Kavanaugh sexually attacked her decades ago.
The Washington Post identified Christine Blasey Ford, a 51-year-old research psychologist and professor at Palo Alto University in California, as the woman whose accusation surfaced last week and raised the first serious doubts about Kavanaugh’s confirmation. The newspaper quoted Ford’s detailed description of the incident, and said it also viewed notes from a 2013 therapy session in which she had called it a “rape attempt.”
One Judiciary Committee Republican, Jeff Flake of Arizona, told Politico he is “not comfortable voting yes” on the nomination until he hears more about Ford’s allegation. “We need to hear from her. And I don’t think I’m alone in this,” Politico quoted him as saying. Flake’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to verify the comments.
Republicans control the Judiciary Committee 11-10, meaning the GOP can’t afford to lose any votes in their party, assuming all Democrats vote no.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley is working to set up bipartisan staff conversations with Kavanaugh and Ford before Thursday’s committee vote on the nomination, Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said in an email Sunday evening. It wasn’t immediately clear whether that would be enough to satisfy senators who are demanding more information.
The allegation puts heavy pressure on moderate senators who must decide whether to vote for Kavanaugh at the risk of angering the “me too” movement. That growing backlash against men facing claims of sexually abusing women has already forced the resignations of top executives and some lawmakers. Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska haven’t said whether they’ll vote to confirm Kavanaugh, nor have a handful of Democrats from states that backed Trump in 2016.
It’s also a significant challenge for Republicans who are struggling to win suburban women’s votes in the Nov. 6 election that will decide control of the U.S. House and Senate.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Judiciary Committee Democrat, called the allegation against Kavanaugh “extremely serious.” The FBI should investigate it before the Senate moves forward with Kavanaugh’s nomination, she said in a statement that was echoed by other Democrats on the committee.
Foy said in an earlier statement that it was “disturbing that these uncorroborated allegations” had surfaced shortly before Thursday’s planned committee vote. The statement didn’t say whether there would be any schedule change, and Foy didn’t immediately respond to a query on the issue. Republicans are aiming for full Senate confirmation of Kavanaugh before the Supreme Court term begins Oct. 1.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also a Judiciary Committee member, said that if Ford wants to provide information to the committee, “I would gladly listen to what she has to say.” But he said that should be done immediately, “so the process can continue as scheduled.”
The White House on Friday released a statement from Kavanaugh in which the nominee said, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
The controversy comes 27 years after the bruising confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexually harassing attorney Anita Hill at two federal jobs, including when he chaired the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that handles harassment and discrimination issues. Thomas was confirmed on a 52-48 vote.
Roe v Wade
Sunday’s development threatens what would be a major win for Trump’s White House and McConnell, as they seek to give a strong rightward tilt to the federal judiciary. White House Counsel Donald McGahn, a leading architect of the strategy, is due to leave the White House once Kavanaugh is confirmed, after it was disclosed that he had been cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling.
Republicans control the Senate 51-49, meaning they need no Democratic support to confirm Kavanaugh, but the outcome likely depends on pro-choice Senators Collins and Murkowski, neither of whom responded to requests for comment Sunday. Kavanaugh could provide the fifth vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling. He called Roe an “important precedent” during his Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing but refused to say whether the ruling was correct.
Kavanaugh’s potential impact on the abortion debate is a risk to the GOP’s already lackluster standing with women, and the sexual assault allegation could make things worse. Female voters preferred Democratic candidates over Republican ones by 54 percent to 33 percent, while 62 percent of women disapproved of Trump’s job performance, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll in July.
The Post quoted Ford as saying Kavanaugh and a friend were “stumbling drunk” when they took her into a bedroom during a party in a house in the Maryland suburbs of Washington. Kavanaugh pinned her to the bed and groped her through her clothes, grinding his body against hers and trying to pull off her clothes, the Post quoted Ford as saying. She said that when she tried to scream, he put his hand over her mouth. She said she believed the attack occurred in 1982.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” the Post quoted Ford as saying. She said Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, jumped on top of them, sending them tumbling, and she was able to escape, the newspaper reported. She said she went home and didn’t tell anyone until she and her husband were in couples therapy in 2012.
‘Serious and Credible’
The Post said it viewed notes from that session and an individual therapy session the following year. The paper said the 2013 notes showed that Ford described a “rape attempt” in her late teens. Her husband, Russell Ford, told the newspaper that when she described the incident in the 2012 session, she used Kavanaugh’s last name and said she was concerned he might eventually be nominated to the Supreme Court. He has been a federal appeals court judge since 2006.
Ford and her lawyer, Debra Katz, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.
Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer called on Grassley to postpone the nomination vote “until, at a very minimum, these serious and credible allegations are thoroughly investigated.”
Senator Kamala Harris of California was among a handful of Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee to call for a delay, describing Ford’s story as “a credible and serious allegation.”