Defiantly denouncing new allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against him as a political ‘smear,’ Judge Brett Kavanaugh went on a media offensive on Monday to tell Senators and the nation that he will not withdraw from consideration for the U.S. Supreme Court, as Kavanaugh heads for a historic hearing on Thursday, which draws obvious parallels to the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Supreme Court sexual harassment showdown in 1991.
“I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process,” Kavanaugh wrote in a Monday letter, as he said the latest charges against him “are smears, pure and simple.”
“There is now a frenzy to come up with something — anything — that will block this process and a vote on my confirmation from occurring,” Kavanaugh added, as it was not clear where the votes stood on his nomination with a small group of Republican Senators.
Here’s the latest on a number of fronts in the Kavanaugh confirmation battle:
1. Kavanaugh-Ford brings back clear memories of Thomas-Hill. Whether you believe the judge or his accuser, these past few days have been much like what I covered in 1991, when the confirmation of Clarence Thomas went off the rails because of the accusations of sexual harassment leveled by law professor Anita Hill. Their testimony in a special round of hearings riveted Senators – and the nation – as Thomas was narrowly confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court by the Senate on a vote of 52-48. I kept my reporter’s notebook from that second round of Thomas hearings because I instinctively knew how important a moment it was. 27 years later, it feels like I am covering the same kind of political battle. I went back into my notes to see what I could find. One thing that stands out is both Thomas and Hill told forceful stories. Both were believable. But both couldn’t be telling the truth at the same time. We may be on the verge of a similar situation with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford.
2. Kavanaugh standing firm on his nomination. When Monday began, some on Capitol Hill wondered if Kavanaugh would throw in the towel – but there was no indication that would happen, as his letter demonstrated. “The coordinated effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out. The vile threats of violence against my family will not drive me out. The last minute character assassination will not succeed,” Kavanaugh wrote. On Monday night, Kavanaugh and his wife went on Fox News on Monday evening to make their case in an unusual forum for a Supreme Court nominee. “I’m not going anywhere,” the judge said in the interview.
3. GOP leaders standing by Kavanaugh as well. It was obvious from the words of the Senate Majority Leader on Monday afternoon that GOP leaders were sticking with Kavanaugh, as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) denounced Democratic attacks on the judge, and vowed that the Senate would vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination. “This is what the so-called ‘Resistance’ has become. A smear campaign, pure and simple,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, in one of the most forceful tones reporters could recall from the Majority Leader. One note about his vow for a vote – note that McConnell did not say Kavanaugh would win. While GOP leaders stand with him, his future rests with a small group of Republicans in the Senate. Their votes probably depend on how the testimony goes in Thursday’s hearing.
4. “PS: I look forward to your testimony.” While Kavanaugh can do interviews, and GOP Senators can make floor speeches, much of what happens in the hearing this Thursday is probably going to be the make-or-break for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. We all have seen Kavanaugh before Senators – but no one has seen or heard Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. This is no ordinary setting. Anita Hill was stoic and composed in 1991. Ford could be the same. How she tells her story – and how she interacts with Senators will be very important, as both sides wait to see what develops later this week. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) added this extra greeting to a letter sent to Ford on Monday.
5. This is not just a regular DC story; it’s a real DC story. While many people might dismiss this nomination fight as a classic partisan battle on Capitol Hill, what makes it somewhat different is the fact that Kavanaugh is a local who grew up in the Washington suburbs, and is part of a web of different social groups in the area. For example, I know people who went to school with, and partied with Kavanaugh. I know some who were friends with the Blasey family, others who know Kavanaugh from the CYO girls basketball league where he coaches, people from his Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church right at the D.C.-Maryland line, and from his country clubs. For some of them, this is a disturbing story on multiple levels, as this is not just a political fight about some big-named nominee. Instead, this is a political fight about someone they know personally. And as you can see from this letter, from some of Kavanaugh’s high school classmates, and the following tweet from one his fellow parishioners, it’s stirred both sides.
6. Echoes of another controversial investigation. When top White House aide Kellyanne Conway went on CBS Monday morning to defend Judge Kavanaugh, she riffed on a famous line from Hillary Clinton and Democrats during the Whitewater-Monica Lewinsky investigation, which Clinton labeled a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy.’ Now, Conway says there is a ‘vast left-wing conspiracy’ which is trying to take out Judge Kavanaugh. The irony of that line is even more obvious when you remember that Kavanaugh was one of the prosecutors on the team of Independent Counsel Ken Starr, and that Kavanaugh was fully prepared to ask President Bill Clinton all sorts of very specific questions about his relationship – and relations – with Lewinsky. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Hillary Clinton was asked if she had any sympathy for Kavanaugh. “No, I have no sympathy,” she answered.
7. How soon could Kavanaugh be on the Supreme Court? One thing to remember from 1991 is that even with the spectacle of the second round of hearings, Clarence Thomas was ultimately approved by the Senate. The same thing could well happen with the Kavanaugh nomination. If Republicans want to press ahead immediately, they could hold the Thursday hearing, have the Judiciary Committee vote on Friday, bring up the nomination on the Senate floor Saturday, vote on a motion to shut off debate on Monday, and then have a final vote on Tuesday, October 2. As long as Republicans have the votes, there is nothing Democrats can do under the Senate rules to stop Kavanaugh – their only option to stop is to have a majority against him. But before we get to that point, there are some Republicans and Democrats in the Senate who will be in the spotlight.