The White House and Senate Republicans signaled they will push forward with their support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, even after a third woman went public with allegations, raising new uncertainties about his prospects for confirmation.
The latest accusation came on the eve of Thursday’s high-stakes hearing, where Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford are expected to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a make-or-break moment for President Trump’s second nominee to the high court in as many years.
Republicans showed no signs of altering their most recent timeline for Kavanaugh’s confirmation process in the wake of Wednesday’s allegation: a hearing followed by a committee vote tentatively scheduled for Friday and then a Senate floor vote early next week.
“I feel like I have a definite responsibility to hold the hearing not only for her but for Judge Kavanaugh,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters when asked if the new allegation would affect the proceedings.
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 GOP senator and a member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters about holding a vote on Friday: “That’s the goal.”
Lawyer Michael Avenatti on Wednesday released the identity of his client, making her the third woman to publicly accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Julie Swetnick said in a sworn declaration that in the 1980s Kavanaugh was present for a “gang rape” where she was a victim.
Avenatti, who also represents adult-film star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuits against Trump, tweeted the declaration in which Swetnick said she met Kavanaugh in “approximately 1980-1981” and attended several house parties at which he and his friend Mark Judge were also present.
The allegation raised fresh questions about whether Republicans would begin to distance themselves from Trump’s nominee just six weeks before the midterm elections.
Trump said at a press conference on Wednesday that he believed Democrats are trying to use the allegations to sink Kavanaugh’s nomination, calling the effort a “big, fat con job.”
He sidestepped a question about whether he believed the women were lying, but he called the allegations “all false.”
“I won’t get into that game. I only tell you this: This is one of the highest quality people that I have ever met,” Trump said. “Everybody that knows him says the same thing.”
A Morning Consult–Politico poll released Wednesday found that support for Kavanaugh among GOP women had dropped 11 percentage points, from 60 percent to 49 percent. That group of voters is being watched closely by Republicans, who are already worried that the voting bloc will turn against them on Nov. 6.
Ford alleges that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed during a high school party in 1982 and tried to remove her clothing. That accusation was followed by one from Deborah Ramirez, who told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when they were both students at Yale University in the early 1980s.
Kavanaugh has denied the allegations against him.
An attorney for Judge in an email to The Hill said Judge “vehemently denies” Swetnick’s allegations. Judge has previously said he has no recollection of the incident described by Ford.
Republican senators brushed off questions about whether the accusation from Swetnick changed the sentiment within the caucus, where most lawmakers are already firmly supporting Kavanaugh despite the unfolding allegations.
“You know everybody in that room knows Kavanaugh and I think is impressed by him. They don’t know any of these other people,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) after a closed-door lunch with the Senate Republican Conference and Vice President Pence.
Several GOP senators appeared to cast doubt on Swetnick’s allegation, giving a glimpse into the frustration by Republicans who think the accusations are being used to try to derail a nominee who earlier this month was considered a lock for confirmation.
“It smells bad to me. I’ve been very suspicious,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters, appearing visibly frustrated. “This is getting into the Twilight Zone — you’re talking about Brett Kavanaugh being a serial rapist in high school.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told Fox News that Avenatti “clearly is a guy all about publicity. But this is the weaponization of the ‘Me Too’ movement.”
But Judiciary Committee staffers have reached out to Avenatti, and senators said they hoped Swetnick would agree to be interviewed by committee staff.
“That’s standard operating procedures,” Cornyn said. “This is the process where it goes from an allegation to testimony under penalty of perjury. So this is an important step to getting to the bottom of it.”
He added that Swetnick could be interviewed by committee staff “by the time the Senate votes on Tuesday.” He wouldn’t say if it could be completed before the Judiciary Committee’s vote that’s scheduled for Friday morning.
“My view is that the longer this nomination strings out there the more you’re going to get reckless accusations that have no basis,” Cornyn separately told reporters.
Grassley noted that his staff initially reached out to Avenatti on Sunday night, but they got back “a bunch of emails. A bunch of questions. No accusations.”
“All I can tell you is we’re handling it exactly like every newspaper report or everybody contacting our office or anonymous even, if we can get the name and or the lawyer we have followed up,” Grassley added.
Those efforts, however, have done little to stem the chaotic scene on Capitol Hill, where undecided senators have been tailed by reporters and hundreds of protesters have flooded the Senate office buildings this week.
Republican senators appeared to form a protective bubble around Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key swing vote, as they emerged from a closed-door caucus lunch, telling reporters to get out of the way.
About a dozen reporters waited for GOP Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), another pivotal senator, to emerge from an unrelated Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting. Flake told reporters that he hadn’t seen the latest allegation before quickly making his way up a senators-only staircase.
Kavanaugh remains short of the votes needed to be confirmed by the full Senate, based on a tally of senators who have publicly stated where they stand. Flake, a member of the Judiciary Committee, and Collins are part of a handful of senators in both parties who remain undecided, meaning they could ultimately decide whether Kavanaugh gets confirmed.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another swing vote, declined to tell reporters if she had seen the new allegation. Meanwhile, Collins told CNN that she took the fresh allegation “very seriously” and it should be investigated by the Judiciary Committee.
And several other GOP senators have been tight-lipped about Kavanaugh since the allegations against him surfaced.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said he had “warm feelings” about Kavanaugh but added that he told his office to clear his schedule so he could watch Thursday’s hearing.
“I have cleared my schedule and I’m going to watch — like I would guess at least 20 other Republican senators are going to do — I’m going to watch the hearing from start to finish,” he told reporters.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) declined to discuss the allegations, saying he wouldn’t comment again on Kavanaugh until after the hearing.
“Like anybody else I’m going to watch the hearing tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll have a further comment about the nomination after the hearing completes.”
Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate, meaning they can lose no more than one GOP senator without needing help from Democrats to confirm Kavanaugh.
No Democrats have said they will support Kavanaugh. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is among those who are demanding that Kavanaugh withdraw in the wake of the third allegation.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Republicans were turning a “blind eye” to the current mood in the country.
“It is sending the wrong message to our boys and girls all across America, that if you’re powerful and if you’re important then what you do doesn’t count,” she said. “It does count. It always counts.”