Senate Republicans say that Brett Kavanaugh’s chances of confirmation have improved because of new doubts over allegations of sexual misconduct against the embattled Supreme Court nominee.
That growing confidence was reflected Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who told reporters after a meeting of the Senate GOP conference that he will have enough votes to confirm Kavanaugh.
“We’re going to be moving forward. I’m confident we’re going to win, confident that he’ll be confirmed in the very near future,” McConnell said. A full-chamber vote on Kavanaugh could be scheduled for next week.
Still, key GOP swing votes such as Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.) are undecided. Murkowski on Tuesday suggested the FBI should look into the accusations and indicated her vote will now depend on whether she believes Kavanaugh.
Republicans have seized on the gaps in the story of a second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, who told The New Yorker magazine that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a Yale dorm-room party but couldn’t remember some key details.
They say the gaps in her memory and an unsuccessful effort by The New York Times to find a witness to corroborate her story have raised new doubts about the allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford.
The Times, however, was not able to get Ramirez to speak about the incident on the record, as The New Yorker did, and may have gone forward with a story had it been able to obtain her cooperation.
Ford has accused Kavanaugh of pinning her to a bed and trying to pull off her clothes at a high-school party when she was 15 years old.
Kavanaugh has emphatically denied all of the allegations, most notably during an interview with his wife Monday night on Fox News.
President Trump on Tuesday accused Democrats of playing a “con game” on his Supreme Court nominee, saying Ramirez was “totally inebriated” at the time of the alleged incident. Ramirez has acknowledged she was drinking the night she says Kavanaugh exposed himself.
Meanwhile, lawyer and possible 2020 presidential candidate Michael Avenatti, who has represented adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in her lawsuits against Trump, has vowed to release serious additional allegations about Kavanaugh soon.
The discrepancies between The New Yorker and The New York Times, coupled with Avenatti’s entry into the debate, has helped Kavanaugh’s chances, Republicans say.
“I think it just looks like more of an orchestrated smear campaign,” said a Republican senator who requested anonymity.
A senior Senate Republican aide said that reporting by the Times revealing that Ramirez confided to a classmate that she wasn’t certain Kavanaugh was the person who thrust his genitals at her face during the Yale party undercut her story significantly.
“The New York Times has caused people here, the conservative commentariat, and the grass roots to say, ‘This is bullshit,’ ” the source said. “It dilutes the credibility of the whole thing,” referring to the other allegations, including those made by Ford.
The staffer said the party’s base has grown more unified behind Kavanaugh and is pressing GOP senators to stand up against what they see as a politically motivated onslaught from the left.
A second Republican senator, who requested anonymity to reveal his thoughts about the latest round of allegations, said, “I think the Democrats are way overplaying their hand.”
“Does it diminish it in your mind when you start getting more and more outrageous charges that aren’t corroborated? Yes. Credibility is a very fragile thing. If time after time you show that you’re not credible, it destroys the other credibility as well,” the senator said.
The lawmaker called the latest allegations being floated by Avenatti — that Kavanaugh participated in multiple gang rapes in high school — “just vile.”
McConnell seized on the doubts raised by the Times in a floor speech Monday.
“This claim is so dubious that The New York Times passed on the story entirely after it looked into it,” he said of Ramirez’s accusation.
“Here’s why The New York Times declined to publish. It — quote — ‘interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story and could find no one with firsthand knowledge.’ Not one person ‘with firsthand knowledge’ to support the allegation — but rather multiple, on-the-record denials,” he said.
Collins has lent more credibility to Ramirez’s charges than some of her GOP colleagues. On Monday, she urged Judiciary Committee investigators to reach out to the woman to question her under oath.
Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) responded angrily Tuesday to Republican claims that the piling up of allegations against Kavanaugh is evidence of a Democratic “smear campaign.”
“I challenge you, Leader McConnell, if you are so convinced this is a smear campaign, you’ll have no problem with an FBI investigation to prove your case. Come to the floor, come now and join me in asking the White House to reopen the background check. Let’s get politics out of it,” he said.
Murkowski on Tuesday urged Ramirez to take the same steps as Ford to make her allegations public.
“If there are allegations out there, Ms. Ramirez needs to be willing to come forward with them, just as Dr. Ford has been willing to come forward, albeit reluctantly, and understandably so,” she said.
“In order for us to take them under consideration, she needs to take that next step,” she added.
Murkowski also said that an FBI investigation would be useful, something most of her GOP colleagues have resisted.
“If there were one, that would help to clear up some of the questions that are out there, but that’s not where we are,” she said.
“I don’t know how long an FBI investigation takes. I think it’s important to remember that it would be part of the continuation of the background check. There have been multiple background checks on Judge Kavanaugh,” she said.
Senate Republican leaders plan to move quickly on Kavanaugh’s nomination once he and Ford testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the panel, plans to bring in a female outside counsel to ask questions of the two witnesses, despite requests from Ford’s legal team that the questioning be handled by senators on the panel. No female GOP senators sit on the Judiciary Committee.
The plan is for the panel to vote on Kavanaugh on Friday, which would set up a floor vote for Tuesday.
McConnell must wait a day after Kavanaugh moves through the committee before filing a motion to end debate on the nomination. Under this scenario, the cloture vote to end debate would occur on Monday and the final vote on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters that Kavanaugh could receive a final vote “by the first part of next week.”
GOP leaders advised senators to keep their schedules free this weekend in case they need to work through the weekend to speed up the timing of a vote in case Democrats attempt procedural delays.
“They did tell us to plan to be here this weekend,” Corker said after the conference met for its weekly Tuesday lunch.