Under White House pressure, the Senate Republican leadership is moving to expedite the final stages of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court after Thursday’s planned hearing featuring the woman who has accused him of sexual assault when they were teenagers.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote Friday on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office alerted senators they should be prepared to work over the weekend, suggesting the chamber could take a procedural vote that would clear the way for a final, full-Senate vote early next week.
President Trump wants Judge Kavanaugh to take the seat of retired Justice Anthony Kennedy by Oct. 1, the start of the high court’s next term. Republican lawmakers are also pressing to fill the lifetime appointment before the November midterm elections in which they are fighting to maintain their majorities in the House and Senate.
“I think that it’s going to be pretty hard to move this along without having votes on certainly Friday or Saturday, probably,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah).
Christine Blasey Ford, the California college professor who has accused the judge of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school during the 1980s, is set to appear Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Judge Kavanaugh, who has denied Dr. Ford’s claims, is also scheduled to appear Thursday before the committee.
Democrats are objecting to Republicans pushing forward on the nomination and vote without first having the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigate Dr. Ford’s allegations.
“Republicans are already talking about rushing to a vote—before we even got to this hearing, before there is an investigation, and while women are sharing more stories,” Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) said on Twitter. “It’s disgusting, it’s disgraceful—and women across the country are paying attention.”
Committee rules require Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) to issue a public notice of a meeting three days in advance. He also has the right to postpone it, which the committee did earlier this week as negotiations for Thursday’s hearing showed progress.
Mr. Trump is frustrated by the delay in the vote, a White House official said Tuesday. The president spoke with the Senate majority leader over the weekend, with Mr. McConnell explaining to Mr. Trump that he had to accommodate certain senators who wanted to ensure that Dr. Ford gets a hearing, the official said. Paraphrasing Mr. McConnell’s message, the official said: “You can’t wave a magic wand and get 51 votes in the Senate overnight.”
It wasn’t clear if Republicans have the 50 votes needed to confirm Judge Kavanaugh. At least three GOP senators are waiting to declare how they will vote until after Thursday’s hearing. Republicans have a 51-49 majority in the Senate. To prevail, they can afford no more than one defection, assuming all Democratic caucus members oppose the nomination. If they lose one vote, they could then have Vice President Mike Pence break a tie.
“I am not going to speculate on where I am. Our meetings certainly went well. He certainly has the credentials,” Sen. Susan Collins (R.,Maine) said Tuesday. “But we now have a serious allegation made and I look forward to the hearing on Thursday.”
Earlier Tuesday, the White House said it was open to congressional testimony from a second woman, who has accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual aggression when he was a college student. There was no indication Senate Republicans would go along with that as a Thursday hearing set to include Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh approached.
“We would be open to that, and that process could take place on Thursday,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” when asked whether the president wanted to hear from Deborah Ramirez, a Yale University classmate of the nominee.
Two allegations of decades-old sexual misconduct are threatening Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is scheduled to testify Thursday. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains how Dr. Ford's allegation came to light at the 11th hour. Photo: AP.
Ms. Ramirez’s attorney, John Clune, told CNN on Tuesday that he was in contact with the Judiciary Committee but that Republicans declined to participate in a call until Ms. Ramirez sent more information and that his client wants the FBI to investigate the allegations first before providing more details to lawmakers.
Her allegations couldn’t be independently verified by The Wall Street Journal. Judge Kavanaugh, who spoke to Senate committee aides about the Ramirez accusation on Tuesday, has denied her claims.
Judiciary Committee Republicans hired Rachel Mitchell, a Phoenix-based sex crimes prosecutor to question Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh on Thursday, a GOP aide said. Republicans were anxious to avoid the optics of 11 men questioning a woman about her sexual assault.
In a Fox News interview Monday, Judge Kavanaugh repeated his denials of Dr. Ford’s claims and said, “I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone. I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter.”
Steve Kantrowitz, a Yale classmate who is now a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, questioned that assertion. He wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning, “Perhaps Brett Kavanaugh was a virgin for many years after high school. But he claimed otherwise in a conversation with me during our freshman year in Lawrance Hall at Yale, in the living room of my suite.”
Mr. Kantrowitz said via email Tuesday that he posted the tweet because of the importance of “honest and integrity” in serving as a justice, and he remembered the conversation because it was surprising. Kerri Kupec, a White House spokeswoman, said Judge Kavanaugh spoke “honestly and forthrightly” in the Fox interview.
The television interview was a highly unusual event for a Supreme Court nominee or any high-level appointment as most administrations guard against a high-profile mistake that could derail a confirmation vote.
White House officials concluded that Judge Kavanaugh needed to rebut the allegations of sexual assault and present himself as an honorable person to the public, which has shown waning support for him in polls.
A WSJ/NBC poll released last week found that 38% of registered voters oppose the Kavanaugh nomination, up from 29% in a Journal/NBC poll last month. Some 34% said they support his nomination, which is about the same as in last month’s poll. More than a quarter of voters say they don’t know enough to have an opinion.
“The press has been carrying Democrats’ and Dr. Ford’s narrative,” a White House official said Tuesday. “They haven’t carried forward the clarity of the judge’s denials. We thought having him on TV and presenting that to the country was important. That was the goal and that was what he accomplished.”
After viewing the interview, people close to Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination are recommending he show more feistiness in the hearing on Thursday and they’ve made that point to him.
In the Fox News interview, Judge Kavanaugh relied heavily on prepared talking points, notably, that he wanted “a fair process.” He repeated the phrase nearly 20 times, according to a transcript.
White House officials are preparing to hold more prep sessions for Judge Kavanaugh ahead of the hearing Thursday, but plan to keep them shorter and tighter in the hope that he won’t be “over-prepared” for his encounter with the Judiciary Committee, one official said Tuesday.
—Vivian Salama, Andrew Duehren and Jess Bravin contributed to this article.