Washington: President Donald Trump doubled down Tuesday on backing for his Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh ahead of an explosive Senate hearing in which the conservative judge will defend himself against a claim he committed sexual assault as a teenager.
Trump, who has shrugged off a slew of allegations about his own sexual improprieties, told a White House press conference that Kavanaugh has an “impeccable history in every way” and “has gone beautifully up the ladder.”
The president repeated his full support for planned hearings in the Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee to hear out both Kavanaugh and his accuser, 51-year-old Christine Blasey Ford.
The showdown was scheduled for Monday, although there were doubts about Ford’s willingness to face a grilling over her allegation that a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her down and tried to assault her when he was 17 and she was 15.
While Trump says he wants the scandal fully resolved, he has also made clear his faith in the 53-year-old Kavanaugh, blaming the uproar on Democratic shenanigans.
“I feel so badly for him. This is not a man who deserves this,” Trump said, calling Democratic opponents who raised the issue at the last minute “lousy politicians” but “very good at obstructing.”
Trump’s vote of confidence in Kavanaugh reinforces what is rapidly becoming the latest battlefront in the deeply polarized country ahead of November midterm congressional elections.
The real estate tycoon and former reality TV show host, who was once caught on tape boasting that as a celebrity he could “grab (women) by the pussy,” has not discussed Ford’s version of the events.
Instead, Tuesday he stressed his sympathy for Kavanaugh.
“I feel terribly for him, for his wife who is an incredibly lovely woman and for his beautiful young daughters.”
And earlier, Trump rejected Democratic calls for an FBI probe.
“I don’t think the FBI should be involved because they don’t want to be involved,” Trump told reporters.
Last minute bombshell
Kavanaugh, whose confirmation would tilt the Supreme Court to the right for years to come, had appeared set to sail through Senate confirmation for the vacancy on the nation’s top court until Ford, a California professor, went public.
The judiciary committee had been due to vote on Kavanaugh this Thursday.
Focus has now shifted to Monday’s planned testimony.
Committee chair Chuck Grassley called a one-day hearing to include just Kavanaugh and Ford, followed by a vote two days later.
But Ford’s testimony remained uncertain and Democrats demand that more witnesses - including possibly another man Ford says was involved in the assault - be called to testify.
Pressure is also building from supporters of the year-old #MeToo movement, which has brought down a string of powerful male figures after women went public with accusations of sexual harassment and assault.
“Anybody who comes forward at this point to be prepared to testify in the US Senate against someone who’s being nominated to one of the most powerful positions in the US government, that takes an extraordinary amount of courage,” said Democrat Kamala Harris, a member of the Senate panel weighing Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“The American public deserves to know the character of someone who will serve for his entire life on the highest court in our country.”
Trump shies from counterattack
The charge against Kavanaugh has left Trump and his Republicans in the precarious position of having to reject Ford’s accusation without alienating women voters ahead of the midterm polls in which the Republicans could lose control of Congress.
Comparisons have been made to the ugly 1991 fight over conservative judge Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court.
Thomas was accused of repeated sexual harassment by a staffer, Anita Hill, but ultimately won confirmation after Republicans ruthlessly smeared Hill’s character.
This time, Republicans are treading more carefully. Their strategy appears to be centred on keeping the hearing to a limited “he said-she said” standoff that might embarrass, but not sink the nominee.
Republican supporters have also mustered letters from dozens of women declaring support for Kavanaugh throughout his career.
“For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honourably and treated women with respect,” read a letter signed by 65 women who said they knew him around the time of the alleged incident, when he was attending an exclusive all-boys school.
An activist group focused on promoting a conservative judiciary has begun buying $1.5 million media ads to defend Kavanaugh.