Cornyn, Cruz push for Judiciary Committee to hear from Kavanaugh’s accuser
WASHINGTON — With public pressure mounting, Senate Republican leaders announced Monday that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who has accused him of sexually assaulting her 30 years ago will testify in a public hearing next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The White House said Kavanaugh is eager to tell his side of the story.
“Judge Kavanaugh looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said. “He stands ready to testify tomorrow if the Senate is ready to hear him.”
The hearing, scheduled for Monday, is shaping up to be a public spectacle akin to the 1991 confirmation hearings that featured Anita Hill, who accused future Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
It was announced a day after Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, went public with her story, sending top GOP leaders scrambling to contain the fallout.
Texas Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both influential figures on the Judiciary Committee, were among those calling for the allegations to be taken seriously.
Cruz said Ford should have a “full opportunity to tell her story before the Judiciary Committee, and Judge Kavanaugh should have a full opportunity to defend himself.”
Ford, a 51-year-old research psychologist in California, says Kavanaugh was drunk when he pinned her to a bed and groped her while attempting to remove her clothes at a high school party in the early 1980s in the Washington suburbs, where they both grew up and attended exclusive private schools.
She said at one point Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth to stop her from screaming, and that she thought he might “inadvertently kill” her during the assault, which she kept secret until 2012, when she told a therapist about it.
Ford’s allegations have been fraught for GOP lawmakers, coming before national midterm elections and at a time of widespread societal reckoning over sexual harassment and abuse in government, the media, business and entertainment.
Though many top Republicans have strongly backed Kavanaugh, waxing skeptical about Ford’s belated allegations, they have been careful not to dismiss her story out of hand.
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in a floor speech Monday, questioned why Democrats had not brought out Ford’s story until now. “If they believe Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser, why didn’t they surface this information earlier so that he could be questioned about it?” McConnell said. “And if they didn’t believe her and chose to withhold the information, why did they decide at the 11th hour to release it?”
Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, initially supported a call by Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley for separate telephone calls between lawmakers and their aides, Kavanaugh, Ford and perhaps other witnesses. It was unclear whether any portion of those proceedings would be in public.
But that changed late Monday, with Grassley’s announcement that the committee would hold a public hearing on the matter.
Kavanaugh, in a statement released through the White House, denied Ford’s allegations.
“I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone,” said Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s pick for a potentially pivotal high court opening. “Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself (Sunday).”
Kavanaugh, 53, also signaled his willingness to go back before the Judiciary Committee, which held several days of contentious hearings earlier this month, focusing on his views on abortion rights.
“I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity,” Kavanaugh said.
Ford, who originally sought to remain anonymous, also indicated she would be willing to testify in a public hearing.
Cornyn, in a statement, said the Judiciary Committee “should treat this with the seriousness it deserves, in a way that is fair to both the individual making the accusation and the judge himself.”
Cornyn also joined other GOP lawmakers in shaming the Democrats for bringing the matter up so late in the confirmation process.
“That Democrats have so egregiously mishandled this up until now,” Cornyn said, “is no excuse for us to do the same.”
The allegations cast a sudden pall over Kavanaugh’s nomination. With only a 51-49 majority in the Senate, Republicans can ill-afford more than one defection.
One key GOP lawmaker, Susan Collins of Maine, told reporters Monday that if Kavanaugh was lying or holding back about the episode, it would be disqualifying.
“For my part, I believe that it’s very important that both Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testify under oath about these allegations,” Collins told reporters. “I need to see them and listen to their answers to the questions in order to make an assessment.”
Other Republicans also called for more time to sort through the allegations, leading to a sense of crisis for the administration, which has hoped to seat Kavanaugh before the court’s term begins on Oct. 1.
Trump expressed resignation. “If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay. It shouldn’t certainly be very much,” he said. “But with all of that being said, it will, I’m sure, work out very well.”
The White House stood by Kavanaugh’s blanket denial Monday, citing a thorough FBI vetting process and testimonials from dozens of past associates and acquaintances, including at least two former girlfriends and other women who support his nomination.
Among those fully backing Kavanaugh’s denial was Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who said Kavanaugh denied being at the party Ford described.
This story contains material from the New York Times.