Republicans aim to confirm Brett Kavanaugh this weekend; protesters arrested

Reuters Washington, DC, USA Oct 05, 2018, 06.04 AM(IST)

Brett Kavanaugh. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Thousands of anti-Kavanaugh protesters rallied outside the Supreme Court and entered a Senate office building, holding signs such as 'Believe Survivors' and 'Kava-Nope'. Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested including actress Amy Schumer. 

President Donald Trump's fellow Republicans gained confidence on Thursday that his US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh would win Senate confirmation after two wavering lawmakers responded positively to an FBI report on accusations of sexual misconduct against the judge.

Also read: Kavanaugh would win Senate confirmation once FBI finishes probe: Trump

The report, sent by the White House to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the middle of the night, was denounced by Democrats as a whitewash that was too narrow in scope and ignored critical witnesses.

Thousands of anti-Kavanaugh protesters rallied outside the Supreme Court and entered a Senate office building, holding signs such as "Believe Survivors" and "Kava-Nope." Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested including actress Amy Schumer. 

But Republicans moved forward with plans for a key procedural vote on Friday and a final vote on Saturday on confirming the conservative federal appeals judge for a lifetime job on the top US court.

Comments by two crucial Republican senators - Jeff Flake and Susan Collins - indicated the FBI report, which was the latest twist in the pitched political battle over Kavanaugh, may have allayed their concerns about him. Flake, a frequent Trump critic, was instrumental in getting the president to order the FBI investigation last Friday.

Trump, himself accused by numerous women during the 2016 presidential race of sexual misconduct, wrote on Twitter that the FBI report showed that the allegations against Kavanaugh were "totally uncorroborated."

Also read: '100 per cent' certain he assaulted me, says Brett Kavanaugh accuser in US Senate hearing

Collins said the FBI investigation appeared to be thorough. Flake said he saw no additional corroborating information against Kavanaugh, although he was "still reading" it. Another undecided Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski, did not offer her view on the FBI report.

Republicans control the Senate by a 51-49 margin. If all the Democrats oppose Kavanaugh, Trump cannot afford to lose the support of more than one Republican for his nominee, with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tiebreaking vote. No Republicans have said they will vote against Kavanaugh.
While the comments by Flake and Collins were positive, neither explicitly announced support for Kavanaugh. 

A previously undecided Democratic Senator, Heidi Heitkamp, said she would vote against Kavanaugh, citing "concerns about his past conduct" and questions about his "temperament, honesty and impartiality" after his angry, defiant testimony a week ago to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Joe Manchin, the only remaining undecided Democrat, said he would finish reading the report on Friday morning.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein noted that the FBI did not interview Kavanaugh himself or Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor from California who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in 1982.

"It smacks of a whitewash," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters, saying the report should not give political cover for Republicans to vote for Kavanaugh because "it is blatantly incomplete."

Most Democrats opposed Trump's nomination of Kavanaugh from the outset. If confirmed, he would deepen conservative control of the court. The sharply partisan battle became an intense political drama when Ford and two other women emerged to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in the 1980s when he was in high school and college. Kavanaugh has denied the accusations.

The Kavanaugh fight has riveted Americans weeks before November 6 elections in which Democrats are trying to take control of Congress from the Republicans. 

Kavanaugh's nomination has become a flashpoint in the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault. The nomination battle boiled down to a "he said, she said" conflict requiring senators to decide between diametrically opposed accounts offered by Kavanaugh and Ford.

Trump on Tuesday mocked Ford during a political rally in Mississippi.

On Thursday afternoon, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens told a small gathering in Boca Raton, Florida that Kavanaugh should not be confirmed, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Stevens, an appointee of Republican President Gerald Ford who often sided with liberal justices on key rulings, told a group of retirees that he initially thought Kavanaugh was qualified, but that "his performance at the hearings ultimately changed my mind." 

Behind closed doors

The FBI report was not released to the public. Senators were allowed to read it behind closed doors in a secure location in the Capitol, without taking notes or making copies.

A senior Senate Republican aide said there was growing confidence that Collins, Flake and Manchin - all swing votes - would support Kavanaugh. If so, that could be enough for a Trump victory. 

White House spokesman Raj Shah said the Trump administration was "fully confident" Kavanaugh had the necessary support.

"I feel pretty good about where we are," added Senator John Thune, a member of Senate Republican leadership.

Some protesters, many dressed in black, crowded into the Hart Senate Office Building after rallying in front of the Supreme Court on a sunny, warm autumn day.

"I'm sick and tired of seeing women's experiences not be given weight," demonstrator Christine Zagrobelny, 29, a software engineer from New York City, said outside the Supreme Court.

Republican leaders sounded unmoved.

"When the noise fades, when the uncorroborated mud washes away, what`s left is the distinguished nominee who stands before us," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said after receiving a staff briefing on the report, "There`s nothing in it that we didn`t already know."

"These uncorroborated accusations have been unequivocally and repeatedly rejected by Judge Kavanaugh, and neither the Judiciary Committee nor the FBI could locate any third parties who can attest to any of the allegations," Grassley added.

White House spokesman Shah told CNN the FBI reached out to 10 people and "comprehensively interviewed" nine of them.

"The White House didn`t micromanage the FBI," he said.

In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Ford`s lawyers noted that the agency declined to interview Ford or any of more than a dozen people they identified to provide relevant information, calling the five-day investigation "a stain on the process, on the FBI and on our American ideal of justice."

Ford testified last week at a dramatic Judiciary Committee hearing that when she was 15, a drunken 17-year-old Kavanaugh pinned her down, tried to remove her clothing and covered her mouth after she screamed. Kavanaugh denied the allegation and painted himself as the victim of a "political hit."

Attorneys for Deborah Ramirez, who has said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when they were students at Yale University, wrote a separate letter to Wray expressing disappointment that FBI agents had not followed up on their interview with her by talking to more than 20 witnesses she identified as being able to corroborate her account.