GOP lines up SCOTUS vote as showdown hearing nears

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump denounced Democratic efforts to block Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation as a cynical "con job" on Tuesday and launched a dismissive attack on a second woman accusing the nominee of sexual misconduct in the 1980s, asserting she "has nothing."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted that Kavanaugh would win approval, despite the new allegations and uncertainty about how pivotal Republicans would vote in a roll call now expected early next week. Like much of America, lawmakers awaited a momentous Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which Kavanaugh and chief accuser Christine Blasey Ford are to testify Thursday, though not together.

Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell will be brought in to handle questioning of Kavanaugh and Ford. Mitchell comes from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in Phoenix, where she is the chief of the Special Victims Division, which covers sex crimes and family violence.

Hanging in the balance is Trump's chance to swing the high court more firmly to the right for a generation. Despite McConnell's forecast that Republicans will "win," Kavanaugh's fate remains uncertain in a chamber where Republicans have a scant 51-49 majority.

"I will be glued to the television," said Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, who has yet to declare her position on confirmation.

Hoping the hearing will yield no new surprises, the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled its own vote on Kavanaugh for Friday, and Republican leaders laid plans that could keep the full Senate in session over the weekend and produce a final showdown roll call soon after — close to the Oct. 1 start of the high court's new term.

Given that the Judiciary Committee's GOP members are all male, McConnell said the panel was hiring a "female assistant" to handle the questioning for Republicans "in a respectful and professional way." Grassley, R-Iowa, identified Mitchell in a press release late Wednesday, describing her as "a career prosecutor with decades of experience prosecuting sex crimes."

"My gut is they're trying to avoid a panel of all white guys asking tone-deaf questions," said Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware.

Each senator on the 21-member panel will be allowed five minutes to ask questions, said committee spokesman Taylor Foy. That's a tight rein for such a major hearing.

Meanwhile, the Republicans were still assessing what Kavanaugh's Monday interview on the Fox News Channel — an unusual appearance for a Supreme Court nominee — indicates about how he would do in Thursday's hearing.

During the interview, Kavanaugh denied sexually assaulting anyone. He also denied the account of a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, who told The New Yorker magazine that Kavanaugh caused her to touch his penis at a party when both were Yale freshmen.

Some in the White House expressed relief that Kavanaugh, 53, presented a positive image to counter the allegations. Yet he appeared shaky at times. And there remained concern among aides and Trump himself about how Kavanaugh would hold up facing far fiercer questioning from Senate Democrats, according to a White House official not authorized to speak publicly.

The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, acknowledged that for the nominee "it's extremely awkward to be talking about such private matters on TV." But Cornyn said he thought Kavanaugh "did well and did what he needed to do" in the interview.

Yet Kavanaugh's accounts of his behavior in high school and college have faced intense scrutiny, with some of his former classmates coming forward to challenge his claims.

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