State of play of the Kavanaugh nomination on Capitol Hill

Posted at 6:19 AM, Sep 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-17 08:19:03-04

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as President Donald Trump’s next Supreme Court justice has moved from a lock to a real question of whether he’ll actually get a vote at all.

Senior Republican staff scrambled throughout the weekend to first get a handle on the allegations, then set up a process to hear from the accuser, all while working through how they will defend their nominee.

Bottom line

The White House and Republican leadership remain steadfastly behind the nomination in the wake of Kavanaugh facing on-the-record allegations of sexual assault when he was in high school.

The outside groups and advisers supporting Kavanaugh’s nomination are prepared to be increasingly aggressive pushing back on the allegations, officials say.

But it’s not up to the White House or GOP leadership or the outside groups as to what happens next to the nomination. That’s up to the rank-and-file Republican senators. How they react on Monday will decide how this process moves forward (or doesn’t).

The broader dynamics

There are now serious, on-the-record allegations directed at a historically unpopular Supreme Court nominee, in the midst of the #MeToo moment, and all less than two months away from the midterm elections, in which a record number of women are running for office.

The key today

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his leadership team are taking the temperature and pulse of the conference. That, more than anything else, will determine what happens next.

McConnell has not publicly commented on the allegations.

To note

McConnell thought Kavanaugh was outstanding during his public hearing testimony. He knew Kavanaugh was on a glide path toward confirmation. He was going to ensure the confirmation vote would happen next week so Kavanaugh could be seated by the court’s next term.

That is currently up in the air.

Where things stand

• Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans still plan to hold the committee vote on Thursday.

• Judiciary Democrats, to a senator, have called for Republicans to delay Thursday’s vote.

Key Republicans:

• Sen. Jeff Flake, a Judiciary Committee member, told the Washington Post he “is not comfortable” moving ahead with the vote until more is learned about the allegations by Christine Blasey Ford.

• Sen. Bob Corker said a delay “would be best for all involved, including the nominee.”

• Sen. Susan Collins says she doesn’t know enough at this point to make a judgment.

• Sen. Lisa Murkowski told CNN of a hearing delay: “I think that might be something they might have to consider.”

One thing to note

These Republican senators aren’t necessarily saying the Thursday committee vote must be called off. They are saying Christine Blasey Ford must be heard from before any vote occurs. It’s Monday, not Wednesday.

What’s next?

Flake calling for a pause is a big deal, because the Judiciary Committee is currently comprised of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. So one Republican departure would lead to an unfavorable vote. That, on its own, doesn’t threaten the nomination. The nomination can be taken to the floor without a favorable committee recommendation — or they can skip the committee altogether. Just depends on what kind of hardball GOP leaders, if facing that reality, want (and deem it possible) to play.

How (and if) the committee moves forward with the allegations:

Republican committee staff was working to set up follow-up calls with Ford and Kavanaugh on Sunday as part of the addition of Ford’s letter to Kavanaugh’s background check file. Democrats have made clear on the staff level, sources say, that is not enough. More needs to be done. As to what that will be? Still TBD.