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White House, Republicans work to shore up Kavanaugh nomination
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House and its Republican congressional allies on Tuesday delivered a message of unwavering support for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh after the judge went on television to fight back against allegations of sexual misconduct that have imperiled his nomination.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated that the chamber will hold a vote on confirming Kavanaugh to a lifetime post on the top U.S. court in the aftermath of a Judiciary Committee hearing set for Thursday in which Kavanaugh and a woman who has accused him of sexual assault will testify.
Kavanaugh has denied the allegations brought by Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor who accused him of sexual assault in 1982 when she and Kavanaugh were high school students in Maryland, and Deborah Ramirez, who accused him of sexual misconduct during the 1983-84 academic year at Yale University.
Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, speaking on Fox News, said the White House would be “open to” Ramirez also testifying before the Judiciary Committee. Sanders, however, said the “absolutely appalling and disgusting” behavior of Democratic lawmakers who have opposed Kavanaugh has turned the confirmation process into a “huge public circus.”
In an interview with Fox News aired on Monday night, Kavanaugh said he “never sexually assaulted anyone,” has “always treated women with dignity and respect” and “did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter.” Regarding alcohol, he said he never drank so much that he could not remember what happened the night before.
“I think all of us have probably done things we look back on in high school and regret or cringe a bit, but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about an allegation of sexual assault. I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone,” Kavanaugh said in the interview, sitting alongside his wife.
“I’m a good person,” Kavanaugh added.
Republicans hold a slim 51-49 Senate majority, meaning Kavanaugh’s confirmation prospects may hinge on the votes of a handful of moderate Republican senators who have not yet announced their intentions, These include Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Jeff Flake.
Some Democratic senators running for re-election in states where Trump is popular also have not yet announced their intentions.
The Kavanaugh confirmation fight comes just weeks before Nov. 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are trying to take control of Congress from Republicans, against a backdrop of the #MeToo movement fighting sexual harassment and assault.
FUTURE OF THE SUPREME COURT
Confirmation of Kavanaugh, a conservative federal appeals court judge, would firm up conservative control of the Supreme Court and advance Trump’s goal of moving the high court and the broader federal judiciary to the right.
Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, said in an interview published in the Washington Post last week Kavanaugh attacked her and tried to remove her clothing while he was drunk at a party when he was 17 years old and she was 15.
Ramirez accused Kavanaugh in an article published in the New Yorker magazine on Sunday of exposing himself to her during a drunken dormitory party at Yale.
Kavanaugh and his Republican allies have framed the allegations as part of a “smear campaign” by Democrats who have opposed his nomination from the beginning.
“The American people know that sexual misconduct is gravely serious. They expect this to be treated seriously and addressed promptly,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor.
“The American people also insist that vague, unsubstantiated and uncorroborated allegations of 30-plus-year-old misconduct where all the supposed witnesses either totally deny it or can’t confirm it is nowhere near grounds to nullify someone’s career or destroy their good name,” McConnell added.
Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, responded with a defense of Ford.
“When I hear the Republican leader come to the floor and talk about her (Ford’s) situation, he zigs and zags. One moment he sounds like he’s sympathetic to Dr. Ford and what she’s been through, calling for fairness, and then before he catches a breath he calls her charges an unsubstantiated smear.”
“What in the world does she have to gain by putting herself and her family through this? What’s at the end of it for her? I can’t see any positives other than the satisfaction that she’s pursuing what she believes to be true,” Durbin added.
Reporting by Richard Cowan and Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Will Dunham