Washington: The confrontation between Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh and his accuser devolved into a polarising stalemate on Wednesday, as Democrats and Republicans advanced competing narratives to convince voters that the other side has been unfair in the Supreme Court confirmation battle.
Christine Blasey Ford, the professor who alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, said a Senate hearing set for Monday to hear her allegation would not be fair and Democrats insisted an FBI investigation take place first. Backed by President Donald Trump, Senate Republicans rejected any FBI inquiry, and said Monday was her chance to be heard.
Blasey’s resistance to appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday seemed to galvanise Republicans and drew wavering Republican senators back into Kavanaugh’s camp. Barring new information or an agreement by Blasey to testify after all, Kavanaugh may now have enough momentum to be confirmed as early as next week. Republicans set a committee meeting for Wednesday for a possible vote to move the nomination to the floor.
Hanging over the impasse were the midterm elections, now less than seven weeks away. Republicans were determined to confirm Kavanaugh before then, knowing that if Democrats managed to win control of the Senate, it would be exponentially harder to approve any nominees sent by Trump.
Conversely, for Democrats, a delay in voting on Kavanaugh would increase the chances of blocking his confirmation and enhance the influence Democrats would have over who eventually fills the vacant seat.
In a statement, Lisa J. Banks, a lawyer for Blasey, said on Wednesday that her client was still willing to work with the Judiciary Committee, but was not convinced that a hearing featuring just her and Kavanaugh would be adequate.
“The committee’s stated plan to move forward with a hearing that has only two witnesses is not a fair or good faith investigation: there are multiple witnesses whose names have appeared publicly and should be included in any proceeding,” Banks said. “The rush to a hearing is unnecessary, and contrary to the committee discovering the truth.”
Senator Charles E. Grassley, committee chairman, said he was flexible on how to handle the questioning of Blasey but not on the date. He offered to hold a public hearing or to conduct the interview behind closed doors, whichever she preferred. He said she could be questioned by staff members rather than senators, and that he would even send lawyers to California to interview her, if she liked.
But he rejected Blasey’s request that the FBI investigate her charges before any hearing and made clear that he would not postpone it past Monday. “It would be a disservice to Dr. Ford, Judge Kavanaugh, this committee and the American people to delay this hearing any further,” he wrote in a letter to committee Democrats.
Democrats acknowledged that Republicans seemed to have reassured the members of their conference uneasy over the allegation and could confirm Kavanaugh on the strength of their razor-thin 51-to-49 majority.
“Clearly, the Senate Republicans have decided to tough it out, and they are worried about one constituency at this point,” Senator Richard J. Durbin said in an interview. “It is not the American public; it is the six or seven Senate Republicans who objected last week to a hurry-up hearing. They think they have them back in their corner.”
Still, the emergence of Blasey’s allegation may have cost Republicans the chance of winning support from any of the red-state Democrats they were hoping to enlist Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat facing a competitive re-election in Missouri, announced on Wednesday that she will vote against confirmation of Kavanaugh.
McCaskill said she was concerned about the accusation against the judge, but based her decision on campaign finance law. “He has revealed his bias against limits on campaign donations, which places him completely out of the mainstream of this nation,” she said in a statement.
Blasey, 51, a university professor in Northern California who is also known by her married name, Ford, has accused Kavanaugh, 53, of pinning her to a bed, groping her, trying to remove her clothing and covering her mouth to keep her from screaming during a party in the early 1980s when the two were teenagers in Maryland. Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegation, and the only other person Blasey said was in the room has also said he does not remember such an assault and had never seen Kavanaugh behave that way.
Another high school friend, Patrick J. Smyth, came forward on Wednesday, saying he was one of two other people Blasey identified being elsewhere in the house at the time of the alleged assault. In a letter to the Judiciary Committee, Smyth said he did not remember anything like it.
“I have no knowledge of the party in question; nor do I have any knowledge of the allegations of improper conduct she has levelled against Brett Kavanaugh,” he wrote. He added, “I have never witnessed any improper conduct by Brett Kavanaugh towards women.”
With the conflict over the confirmation and the supercharged allegations taking place so close to the midterms, both sides were deeply anxious about the possible effect and were eager to blame the other. Republicans argued that they have given Blasey an opportunity to tell her story to the Senate, either in public or in private, while Democrats said the refusal to call in the FBI showed that the president’s party was not really interested in finding the truth.
Three of the Republican senators who had insisted on postponing a committee vote on Kavanaugh originally scheduled for Thursday until hearing from Blasey have now said she should testify on Monday.
“I don’t think she can reject all those options because otherwise there are these very serious allegations hanging over the head of a nominee who has emphatically denied them,” Senator Susan Collins, told a radio station in her home state on Wednesday. “That’s just not a good way for us to end. So I think she needs to come forward, and we need to provide her with any protection she may ask for herself and her family.”
The allegations against Kavanaugh appeared to diminish his public standing, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll. Opposition to his confirmation rose by 6 percentage points to 36 per cent in a survey that began before Blasey went public and continued through Monday after The Post interview on Sunday with Blasey. Only 31 per cent said they support his confirmation, which would rank him among the lowest nominees if he were eventually confirmed.
While Blasey and Democrats have called for an FBI investigation before a hearing, it is unlikely the bureau would open a criminal investigation of Kavanaugh because Blasey’s accusations do not involve a potential federal crime. Sexual assault would typically be a state crime, and the passage of more than three decades would make any prosecution problematic, according to legal experts.