WASHINGTON—The Senate Judiciary Committee said Monday it would hold a hearing next week with Judge Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who has accused him of sexual assault, setting the stage for a dramatic public showdown that could determine the fate of his nomination to the Supreme Court.
The hearing will give citizens and lawmakers a chance to hear more about the three-decades-old accusations against Judge Kavanaugh from his teenage years at a Washington-area prep school. Judge Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the accusation, and the White House has said it would proceed with his nomination.
The planned session will “give these recent allegations a full airing,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa.).
Several Republican senators whose votes will be key to confirming Judge Kavanaugh have said the allegations are serious and merit a full public accounting. The hearing, to be held next Monday, will be Judge Kavanaugh’s best chance to rescue his imperiled nomination and respond to the allegations in a public forum.
The hearing will pit his credibility against an explosive accusation made by Christine Blasey Ford, a California college professor, who said he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. Mrs. Ford told the Washington Post that when she and Judge Kavanaugh were teenagers at a party in the Washington, D.C., area, he and a friend pulled her into a bedroom. Judge Kavanaugh pinned her down on the bed, groped her and attempted to remove her clothing before she escaped, Mrs. Ford said in the article.
Mrs. Ford, now a professor at Palo Alto University in California, described the episode as aggressive. “I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” she told the Post. She said that Mr. Kavanaugh appeared to be intoxicated during their encounter. Efforts to reach Mrs. Ford weren’t successful.
Judge Kavanaugh called the accusation “completely false.” He added: “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone.” He said he didn’t know who was making the accusation until Mrs. Ford identified herself on Sunday.
Republican leaders spent Monday behind closed doors debating over how to proceed with Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. He was tapped in July to succeed the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. The confirmation of a new, conservative justice to the high court is a top priority of both President Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress.
After initial signals that Republican leaders would pursue private phone calls with the judge and his accuser rather than a public forum, Mr. Grassley said late Monday the panel would go ahead with a hearing featuring both Mrs. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Mr. Grassley said he made the decision after his staff spoke with Mrs. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh in the afternoon.
President Trump indicated he was willing to accept a small delay in the confirmation process to sort out the allegations.
“We want to go through a full process…and hear everybody out,” Mr. Trump told reporters, while also praising Judge Kavanaugh. “If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay.”
Members of Republican Senate leadership expressed cautious optimism that the hearing could put Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination back on track. Republicans had been hoping to hold a confirmation vote in committee this week and move him to the Senate floor next week—in time for him to join the court at the start of its fall session in October.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he supported the decision to hold a hearing about the accusations.
“The committee has made a good decision and we’re going to go forward with it,” he said. Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), another member of Senate leadership, said of the hearing: “I just think that’s the only way that both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanuagh have the opportunity to make their case.”
The path to Judge Kavanuagh’s confirmation hinges on his performance in the hearing. The Republicans control the Senate by a narrow 51-49 margin, so two Republican votes against Judge Kavanaugh would be enough to sink his nomination if Democrats were to vote against him as a bloc.
Several Republicans have said that they are withholding judgment until the hearing, including key votes like Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
“I need to see them and listen to their answers to the questions in order to make an assessment,” Ms. Collins told reporters.
Other Republicans stood by Judge Kavanaugh. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah told reporters he had spoken to Judge Kavanaugh and that the nominee denied being at the party in question. “I believe him,” Mr. Hatch said. “He’s a person of immense integrity.”
The planned hearing is reminiscent of the 1991 confirmation hearing of now-Justice Clarence Thomas that featured testimony by Anita Hill, a college professor, that Justice Thomas had sexually harassed her when he had been her supervisor. Justice Thomas denied the allegation.
This time, a hearing would unfold against the additional backdrop of a growing movement against sexual harassment and the fractious politics of the Trump presidency and the midterm election season.
Judge Kavanaugh visited the White House Monday and spoke by phone to senators, fielding questions about the sexual-assault allegations, a White House official said.
Mrs. Ford first contacted Congress with her allegations in July, hoping to remain anonymous. The matter spilled into public view several days ago when Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she had reported a matter involving Judge Kavanaugh to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mrs. Feinstein didn’t initially name Mrs. Ford, saying the individual had requested confidentiality.
Democrats have been seeking to slow down the Kavanaugh confirmation process, which they argue has been rushed in an effort to get the judge seated before the midterms. Republicans, including Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell, see their success in putting conservatives on the bench, especially the Supreme Court, as a strong campaign message to their base voters.
Liberal activists have also put heavy pressure on Democrats to oppose the nomination, concerned about Judge Kavanaugh’s views on abortion rights, executive power and government regulation.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said several days ago she had reported a matter involving Judge Kavanaugh to the FBI. On Sunday she confirmed Mrs. Ford was the person involved in the allegations. Photo: Alex Brandon/Associated Press
When the Supreme Court’s fall term begins in October, justices will hear cases that could impact the criminal justice system, major tech companies and charities. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday looks at key cases on the docket. Photo: AP.
Most Senate Democrats have already signaled opposition to the nomination, though several who are running for re-election this year in states won by Mr. Trump were believed to be possible “yes” votes before the accusations of sexual assault were made public.
More on the Kavanaugh Nomination
contributed to this article.