Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who accuses him of a decades-old sexual assault will testify next week before a Senate committee in what promises to be an explosive public showdown in the era of the “Me Too” movement.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a new hearing on Sept. 24, Chairman Chuck Grassley said, bowing to pressure from Democrats and some Republicans to hear from Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party when they were in high school.
The newly scheduled hearing will delay Grassley’s plan to vote Thursday on the nomination.
A public hearing is “the only way that Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford can appear and make their case,” Senator Rob Portman of Ohio told reporters. Fellow Republican John Thune of South Dakota said senators will have the opportunity to ask questions.
“The committee’s made a good decision. We’re going to go forward with it,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied Ford’s claim, and President Donald Trump defended his second high court choice Monday as one of “the finest people I’ve ever known.”
“If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay” to get him confirmed, the president said.
White House Is Said Not to Ask FBI to Vet Kavanaugh Allegations
Trump already is under pressure from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and the prospect of Republicans losing control of the House or Senate, or both, in the Nov. 6 election. The GOP has hoped to use Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a major campaign selling point.
Republicans control the Senate 51-49, meaning they need no Democratic votes if no more than one GOP senator defects.
The upcoming hearing will be a milestone in the “Me Too” movement that seeks to hold people responsible for sexual abuse and harassment. It comes 27 years after the bruising confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexually harassing attorney Anita Hill when he was her supervisor at two federal agencies. Both testified publicly before the then all-male Judiciary Committee amid a public uproar, and Thomas was confirmed on a 52-48 vote.
Committee Republicans will face some challenging optics in next week’s hearing, as all 11 panel members are men. Four of the 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are women.
Grassley said in a statement that his committee will “give these recent allegations a full airing.” He said his staff has sought to contact Ford to hear her account, and that staff members spoke with Kavanaugh by phone Monday afternoon.
Ford, a California college professor, says that Kavanaugh was drunk at a house party in about 1982 and pinned her down on a bed, tried to remove her clothes and put his hand over her mouth to stop her from screaming. The Washington Post reported that she described the incident to a therapist in 2013 as a “rape attempt.”
Kavanaugh said in a statement issued Monday by the White House, “This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday.”
‘A Lot of Questions’
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate and a crucial GOP vote, said Monday she wants to hear “testimony under oath with a lot of questions asked of both of them.”
“Obviously if Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying,” Collins told reporters.
The White House and GOP lawmakers accuse Democrats of waiting until late in the confirmation process to disclose the claim by Ford, who had sought anonymity for weeks before ultimately deciding to reveal her identity. Democrats have contended that the GOP is seeking to jam Kavanaugh’s nomination through the Senate without releasing thousands of records on his work as a lawyer in President George W. Bush’s White House.
Some Republican senators joined Democrats in demanding to hear from Ford and Kavanaugh about the allegation, and Grassley was unable to satisfy members by promising staff interviews of the judge and his accuser by phone.
The sex assault allegation threatens to harm the GOP’s already lackluster standing with women. Female voters preferred Democratic candidates over Republicans 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.