WASHINGTON – True or false, a woman’s accusation that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school buckles what had been a smooth path to a seat on the Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh denies the allegation, but the accuser came back with an offer to testify publicly to Congress. Republicans defending their House and Senate majorities are resisting a public hearing, which would play out in the crosswinds of the #MeToo movement and the Nov. 6 elections. Then there’s the man in the Oval Office, himself the subject of misconduct accusations by more than a dozen women – all liars, he has said.
Some things to know about the forces that have swamped the Kavanaugh nomination:
THE STATE OF THINGSOfficial Washington was scrambling Monday to assess Kavanaugh’s prospects after his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, revealed her identity to The Washington Post and described an encounter she believes was attempted rape. Kavanaugh came to the White House amid the upheaval, but there was no immediate word on why or whether he had been summoned.
Ford sent her lawyer out to be clear on some key points. “She believes that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped,” Debra S. Katz, told NBC’s “Today.” Further, Ford is willing to testify publicly, under oath, before the Judiciary Committee, Katz said.
Through the White House, Kavanaugh “categorically and unequivocally” denied the allegation and suggested he, too, is willing to testify under oath.
Ford said she was reluctant to come forward until reporters began contacting her. Kavanaugh, she told the Post, pinned her to a bed at a Maryland party in the early 1980s and tried to remove her clothing and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. She said she was around 15 at the time. He would have been around 17.
Kavanaugh attended a private school for boys in Maryland, while Ford attended a nearby school.
The Senate Judiciary Committee as of Monday had not changed its plan for a Thursday vote on whether to recommend Kavanaugh and forward his nomination to the full Senate. Critics have accused the GOP of fast-tracking the process to get Kavanaugh on the court by Oct. 1, the first day of the fall term.
The Judiciary committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, says he will seek private interviews with both Kavanaugh and Ford. Republicans say that process is standard when new information is added to the background file of a nominee.
SENATE MATHWhich way Kavanaugh’s nomination goes – to the high court or down in defeat — is all about the math of votes in the 100-member Senate. The party split goes like this: 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and 2 independents, both of whom caucus with the Democrats. So two Republican votes against Kavanaugh’s confirmation would derail it. Vice President Mike Pence could break a 50-50 tie.
More than two Republican senators have not committed to voting yes. Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a member of the Judiciary Committee, says he is not comfortable holding a vote until Ford’s allegations are heard. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who also is retiring, is not on the panel but said the vote should be postponed until the committee has heard from Ford.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, says she wants both Ford and Kavanaugh to testify to the Judiciary Committee under oath.
Like Collins, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska says she has questions about the allegation. Both Collins and Murkowski are considered potential swing votes on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
AN END RUN?The Judiciary Committee is split between majority Republicans and Democrats 11-10. Even if Democrats peel off the one Republican vote to not recommend Kavanaugh to the full Senate, Republicans have another option. There’s nothing preventing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from bringing the nomination directly to the Senate floor.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMPTrump stayed publicly silent on Kavanaugh over the weekend but told reporters Monday afternoon that “a little delay” may be needed on the upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee vote.
However, Trump predicted that the judge’s nomination will “work out very well.”
Trump said he wants a “full process” to investigate the allegations, but he also said the nomination was “very much on track.” The president praised Kavanaugh as one of the finest people he’s known, and he called a question about whether Kavanaugh should withdraw “ridiculous.”
Across multiple morning shows on Monday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway pushed for Ford to be allowed to testify before lawmakers.
“She should not be insulted. She should not be ignored. She should testify under oath, and she should do it on Capitol Hill,” Conway said.
Trump did not say whether he thought Ford should appear before lawmakers. Conway said that decision was up to the Judiciary Committee.
Either way, Trump’s own history could be drawn into the discussion. More than a dozen women have accused him of sexual misconduct, which he denies. Then there’s the “Access Hollywood” tape that repelled many Republicans when it became public during the 2016 election. On it, Trump can be heard boasting of grabbing women by their genitals and kissing them without permission.
Trump apologized but also defended himself, calling his comments “locker-room talk.”
REPUBLICANSRepublicans seem determined to avoid a public airing of the allegations against Kavanaugh and on Monday began a vociferous defense of the judge.
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused Democrats of keeping the allegation secret until the “11th hour” and said Kavanaugh has been thoroughly vetted.
Another senior Republican on the Judiciary panel, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, said Kavanaugh told him in a phone call he wasn’t at the party where Ford alleges the assault took place. Hatch told CNN, “Somebody’s mixed up.”
Conspicuously absent from the Republican remarks were any personal attacks against Ford. The restraint may have been aimed at avoiding a fight with Collins and Murkowski, the two GOP senators most likely to derail the nomination.
THE ELECTIONTrump won 41 percent of votes cast by women nationally in 2016 – despite the “Access Hollywood” tape, his habit of criticizing women’s looks and the fact that his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, is a woman.
But two years later, the president and his party are facing a headwind of opposition from women in the midterm election that the Kavanaugh allegation could amplify.
A record number of women, most of them Democrats, will be on the nation’s ballots in the Nov. 6 congressional elections. In the House, Democrats need to flip 23 Republican-held seats to win the majority. In the Senate, the Democrats would have to gain two seats.
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.