Republicans race to first Brett Kavanaugh vote after hearing from accuser Christine Blasey Ford
Final vote on U.S. Supreme Court nominee could come as early as Tuesday
U.S. Senate Republicans are plowing forward with a committee vote Friday on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court after an extraordinary and emotional day of testimony where he denied accusations of sexual assault as "unequivocally" false. His accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified that she was "100 per cent" certain Kavanaugh attacked her.
The remarkable testimony appears to have only sharpened the partisan divide over U.S. President Donald Trump's nominee. Republicans praised Ford's bravery in coming forward, but many of them said her account won't affect their support for Kavanaugh.
Trump also made clear that he was sticking by his nominee. "His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting," he tweeted. "The Senate must vote!"
The Senate judiciary committee, where the initial vote on Kavanaugh will be held, is narrowly split with an 11-10 Republican majority. Democrats are expected to oppose the nominee. But even if the panel deadlocks on whether to recommend the judge for confirmation, the full Senate could start taking procedural votes Saturday on Kavanaugh, setting up a final vote as soon as Tuesday.
'We're going to move forward'
"We're going to move forward," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as he exited a private late-night strategy session with Republican senators. "The committee is going to vote."
The American Bar Association urged the judiciary committee and the full Senate to slow down on the vote until the FBI has time to do a full background check on the assault claims.
"We make this request because of the ABA's respect for the rule of law and due process under law," the ABA letter to committee leadership said. "Each appointment to our nation's highest court (as with all others) is simply too important to rush to a vote."
Of the 11 Republicans on the judiciary committee, only the vote of Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona remains in doubt. The retiring senator, who has stayed quiet in recent days, told reporters late Thursday, "this isn't easy."
Flake talks about uncertainty and doubt.
'As much doubt as certainty'
Flake said the marathon hearing left him "with as much doubt as certainty." He said, "We just do the best we can."
At the daylong session Thursday, Ford and Kavanaugh both said the event and the public controversy that has erupted 36 years later had altered their lives forever and for the worse — perhaps the only thing they agreed on during a long day of testimony that was a study in contrasts of tone as well as substance.
Coming forward publicly for the first time, Ford, a California psychology professor, quietly told the nation and the Senate judiciary committee her long-held secret of the alleged assault in locked room at a gathering of friends when she was just 15. The memory — and Kavanaugh's laughter during the act — was "locked" in her brain, she said: "100 per cent."
Ford describes the alleged assault:
Hours later, Kavanaugh angrily denied it, alternating a loud, defiant tone with near tears as he addressed the Senate judiciary committee.
"You have replaced 'advice and consent' with 'search and destroy," he said, referring to the Constitution's charge to senators' duties in confirming high officials.
Steady Ford, fuming Kavanaugh
Repeatedly Democrats asked Kavanaugh to call for an FBI investigation into the claims. He did not.
"I welcome whatever the committee wants to do," he said.
Republicans are reluctant for several reasons, including the likelihood that further investigations could push a vote past the November elections that may switch Senate control back to the Democrats and make consideration of any Trump nominee more difficult.
Across more than 10 hours, the senators heard from only the two witnesses. Ford delivered her testimony with steady, deliberate certitude. She admitted gaps in her memory as she choked back tears and said she "believed he was going to rape me." Kavanaugh's entered the hearing room fuming and ready to fight, as he angrily denied the charges from Ford and other women accusing him of misconduct, barked back at senators and dismissed some questions with a flippant "whatever."
"You may defeat me in the final vote, but you'll never get me to quit, never," he said.
Trump nominated the conservative jurist in what was supposed to be an election year capstone to the Republican agenda, locking in the court's majority for years to come. Instead the nomination that Republicans were rushing for a vote now hangs precariously after one of the most emotionally charged hearings Capitol Hill has ever seen. Coming amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct at the top of powerful institutions, it exposed continued divisions over justice, fairness and who should be believed. And coming weeks before elections, it ensured that debate would play into the fight for control of Congress.