The White House and Senate Republican leaders have hardened their resolve to move forward with Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination in the wake of a new allegation in The New Yorker of inappropriate sexual behavior.
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave forceful statements defending Kavanaugh. The nominee himself issued a fiery letter pledging not to withdraw and will take the very rare step of doing a television interview Monday evening on Fox News.
Meanwhile, all eyes remain on a handful of Republicans to see if Kavanaugh’s nomination can survive to at least Thursday’s Judiciary Committee hearing on the assault allegations against him.
While Republican aides acknowledge Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations and the looming hearing on them have left Kavanaugh’s nomination in limbo, the New Yorker allegations “have made people more angry then worried,” one senior official told CNN.
Republicans and Kavanaugh’s allies have also begun to lump The New Yorker story in with Ford’s in an indirect way to undermine the assault claim.
The senior official pointed to strong statements from Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina Monday morning. McConnell spoke later in the day, and GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah accused Democrats of slinging “crap” at Kavanaugh.
“Well it’s amazing to me that these allegations come out of nowhere at the last minute and that they weren’t brought up earlier in this process,” Hatch said. “And it’s not untypical for our friends on the other side to pull that kind of crap.”
Several sources involved with Kavanaugh’s confirmation expressed cautious optimism that, at least for now, the newest allegation against him isn’t going to pose as serious a problem to the nomination as Ford’s has.
Kavanaugh has denied the allegations against him.
Some said the second allegation, which emerged Sunday evening, has even put the White House and Republicans back on offense and reinvigorated the fight for Kavanaugh’s flagging nomination.
A White House aide said the New Yorker story was “already falling apart” by Monday morning, and senior officials encouraged surrogates to hammer holes in the latest claim leveled at Kavanaugh. On a conference call with supporters Monday, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President, said there was “no wobbling” from the White House when it comes to its support of Kavanaugh.
According to the New Yorker, Deborah Ramirez, a woman who attended Yale University with Kavanaugh, claimed Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a dormitory party and caused her to touch his genitals without her consent as she pushed him away. Authors of the story acknowledged that “dozens” of the fellow students they contacted either did not respond to inquiries, declined to comment or said they did not attend or remember the party in question – a detail Kavanaugh’s supporters have seized on to cast doubt on Ramirez’s claim.
The statements from Republican lawmakers echo what has become a drumbeat of public and private messages from outside conservative and grassroots groups to push forward amid the allegations.
“Even by the far left’s standards, this shameful, shameful smear campaign has hit a new low,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “I want to be perfectly clear about what has taken place. Senate Democrats and their allies are trying to destroy a man’s personal and professional life on the basis of decades-old allegations.”
Cotton, in a statement, put the blame on Democrats for the stories – and called it “character assassination.”
“It’s time to vote this week,” Cotton said.
Still, the key to everything remains the vote count – and that means leaders are closely watching Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, as well as retiring Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a member of the Judiciary Committee, to see what their reactions will be in the wake of the latest allegation, the officials and aides said.
One White House aide acknowledged anxiety about how Collins will vote, but noted that’s always the case when it comes to the Maine moderate. The aide said Kavanaugh’s team has been worried about Collins’ vote since even before the first allegation surfaced, and said there isn’t necessarily a fear right now that the second allegation will risk her support any more than the first already has.
Back on offense
Republicans and Kavanaugh’s allies are using the Ramirez claim to undercut Ford’s
Many Republicans had already spent more than a week acknowledging Ford’s right to share her story with the Senate Judiciary Committee before taking a vote – making her allegation more difficult for them to assail.
Ford claims Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were both in high school, and she provided six-year-old therapists’ notes to the Washington Post in an effort to support her allegation. She also provided the names of several people who she said attended the gathering where the alleged assault took place, but none so far have recalled the incident.
Caveats in the Ramirez story – and a lack of corroborating evidence of any kind – have given Kavanaugh’s supporters what they see as an opening to pounce.
CNN so far has not spoken to anyone who is willing to corroborate the New Yorker’s story.
Kavanaugh, in a statement Sunday, denied the allegations.”This alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen. The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple. I look forward to testifying on Thursday about the truth, and defending my good name – and the reputation for character and integrity I have spent a lifetime building – against these last-minute allegations.”
Trump on Monday dismissed the allegations levied against his Supreme Court nominee, calling them “totally political.”
“And for people to come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago and 30 years ago and never mentioned it and all of a sudden it happens, in my opinion it’s totally political,” he said. “It’s totally political.”