Sasse taking cautious approach to sexual assault allegations against ‘strong nominee’ Kavanaugh
WASHINGTON — When President Donald Trump tapped Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, Sen. Ben Sasse lauded the nominee as a brilliant and humble man, a great pick for the highest court in the land.
A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sasse praised Kavanaugh’s performance before that panel earlier this month.
But the Nebraska Republican has had little to say publicly about the allegations of sexual assault leveled against Kavanaugh. That’s intentional, he told Wednesday’s weekly gathering of Nebraskans visiting Washington.
“I’ve made a point of not commenting very much in public on this because we still have a lot of allegations and details to sort through,” Sasse said. “I think Brett Kavanaugh was a strong nominee that the president made and now these new allegations came late in the process.”
He said it was unhelpful “for people to sit on allegations for two months and spring them after our hearings were all done.” Still, Sasse said the committee needs to hear the allegations.
Sasse alluded to spending a lot of time this week reading documents, “some of which are very serious and need to be taken seriously and some are sort of scrawled on a piece of paper and dropped off at somebody’s office.”
He went on to say: “You know, ‘Individual x, y and z tried to kill me yesterday, backed up his car real fast at me.’ Like, lots of stuff that we’re getting that’s just completely nonsensical and then sorting that out from things that we want to take a lot more seriously.”
Christine Blasey Ford has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a high school party when they were both teenagers.
Kavanaugh has unequivocally denied those allegations, as well as claims from one woman that he exposed himself to her at a party in college and fresh claims from a third woman Wednesday of additional misconduct.
The Judiciary Committee will hear testimony from Ford and Kavanaugh on Thursday. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is chairman of the committee.
Grassley told reporters Wednesday that the committee has tried to accommodate Ford’s wishes for Thursday’s session, opting to go with a smaller hearing room and a limited press pool.
“Dr. Ford said she didn’t want a media circus, so we’re having it in an environment that’s a little bit different than what we had for the four days of Kavanaugh, to make her feel comfortable,” Grassley said.
He said that Ford and Kavanaugh can speak as long as they want. Republicans on the committee are expected to have an attorney asking questions for them during the hearing.
“We did it to de-politicize the whole process,” Grassley said of having an attorney ask questions. “So that we don’t get into the political environments that we were in for the four days that Kavanaugh was before our committee. And we think that this shows more respect for the environment that she wants.”
Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb issued a statement earlier this week calling for members of the state’s all-GOP congressional delegation to take seriously and publicly address the allegations against Kavanaugh.
“We are at a point in our country’s history where women are demanding equal footing in the workplace and in politics,” Kleeb said. “For too long we have been second-guessed, slapped on the backside, and not been taken seriously. Believing women’s stories of sexual harassment and rape in order for full investigations is one step. Full equality is what we demand.”
Sasse declined a World-Herald interview request this week about the allegations against Kavanaugh. Spokesman James Wegmann provided a written statement.
“Sen. Sasse believes that Ford and Kavanaugh deserve to be heard and that the Senate’s obligation to steward public trust means senators should deliberate thoughtfully and carefully,” Wegmann said. “He and Chairman Grassley are committed to a fair and respectful process.”
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., who does not serve on the Judiciary Committee, declined an interview request. Spokeswoman Brianna Puccini provided a written statement.
“Sen. Fischer has made her support for Judge Kavanaugh clear,” Puccini said. “She looks forward to the hearing on Thursday so we can hear from both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh.”
Grassley gave notice of a potential committee vote on the nomination that could come as early as Friday, just hours after the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing. Grassley said it remains to be seen whether the vote happens that quickly.
Asked whether he’s worried the Senate could move to confirm Kavanaugh only to see additional allegations corroborated, Grassley said the same questions were raised during Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation more than 25 years ago.
“He’s been on the court 25 years, and none of that materialized,” Grassley said, adding he expects the same if Kavanaugh is confirmed.
Grassley said he planned to release a document later Wednesday detailing the work the committee has done looking into the allegations.
“But the most important thing is how Kavanaugh convinces the committee (Thursday),” he said.
The situation has far-reaching political ramifications.
Fischer’s Democratic opponent, Jane Raybould, said in a release Wednesday that the allegations of misconduct against Kavanaugh are “disturbing, credible and growing in number” and that it’s a “slap in the face to all Nebraska women” for the nomination to be pushed through.
“We need to press the pause button until a full, complete investigation is conducted,” Raybould said.
Even though House members don’t vote on nominations, the issue was spilling over into those races.
Democrat Kara Eastman wrote on Twitter about the latest “incredibly disturbing allegations” against the judge.
“The #Kavanaugh hearings should be put on hold until a full FBI investigation is conducted. Period,” she wrote.
Her opponent, Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., had praised Kavanaugh before the allegations came out.
Bacon said this week that Senate Democrats are operating out of political reasons and should not have sat on the allegations. But he also said Grassley is making the right move to hear from both Ford and Kavanaugh .
“We owe both of them a chance to speak,” he said.