Senate Announces Public Hearings Regarding Kavanaugh Sexual Misconduct Allegations
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, has announced that the committee will hold a public hearing on Monday with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party when they were in high school in the 1980s. NPR's Scott Detrow is here to tell us an update about what's going on. Hey there, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: So Republican leaders started the day opposing the idea of delaying Kavanaugh's committee vote and holding new hearings, right? That was something that was sort of out there as an option.
CORNISH: Now we actually have this public hearing, so it's not a delay totally, right? We're going to hear out these parties. What more have you learned?
DETROW: Well, yeah. I think you can characterize it as a delay because Republicans - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders were dead set on getting Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court for the start of the fall...
CORNISH: Meaning that vote would have happened out of committee this week.
DETROW: That's right. So there was going to be a vote Thursday. Now there is a hearing Monday. It's not clear when the vote would be, assuming everything goes well for Kavanaugh. But already, pushing that back by a week makes that tight timeline hard to reach. You know, McConnell had wanted to move forward, but he has just that two-vote margin, that 51-49 vote margin. And there was a lot of pressure from Republicans saying they were not comfortable moving forward on that fast pace without learning more. The most high-profile proponent on the Republican side of a public hearing was Susan Collins from Maine. And she was pretty pleased once this hearing was announced.
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SUSAN COLLINS: I believe that it's very important that both Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testify under oath about these allegations.
CORNISH: Scott, is this a nomination that is now in doubt?
DETROW: Hard to say right now. Collins said she doesn't think you can conclude that yet. She wants to see what's said at that hearing, very insistent on it being under oath. That's important to Collins. But again, it's that slim margin, 51-49. After this accusation has come out, it's hard to see any Democrat voting yes. So just a couple Republicans feeling uncomfortable with this vote, feeling like they believe Ford and not Kavanaugh, puts his nomination in doubt.
Jeff Flake of Arizona is someone else who was pushing for a pause on this fast schedule. He said this evening that if you believe the charges, you have to vote no. At this point, he said, all we can do is hold that hearing next week. And as I said, what is clear, though, that there's probably no way that Kavanaugh will be on the bench to start the term at this point.
CORNISH: What are Democrats saying about this?
DETROW: You know, this seems to be a step in the right direction from their point of view. But they're really not satisfied here. Democrats had called for a full FBI investigation. They had wanted that before this hearing. That's one reason why, earlier this evening, the Judiciary Committee staff had been on the phone with Brett Kavanaugh. Chairman Chuck Grassley had hoped to learn more information through phone calls with staff. Democrats said, no, phone calls won't do. We want the FBI to look at this. And Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal, who's on that committee, says having a hearing before the FBI weighs in just doesn't make sense.
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RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: There's no way I would put a crime survivor on the stand in front of a jury, let alone the American people, without a full investigation so that I know what the facts are before I start asking questions.
DETROW: But that full FBI investigation doesn't appear to be coming. The Department of Justice said in a statement today that they view their job as complete. They did a background check of Kavanaugh, and they have appended this letter that came in to their report to the White House. And it seems to be that they feel their job is done at this point.
CORNISH: And in the meantime, we should remind people that Brett Kavanaugh has denied these allegations, right? And what else have we heard from the White House and some of his defenders?
DETROW: That's right. Kavanaugh says this did not happen. Earlier today, President Trump said Kavanaugh still has his full support. But it's hard to not underscore how much of a severe turn this is. Kavanaugh looked to be almost a done deal after those confirmation hearings. Now there's going to be a very ugly public hearing - he said, she said. And it's - it looks like it could be a replay of that infamous, toxic 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Scott Detrow. Thank you for your reporting.
DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.