WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – President Donald Trump said on Monday (Sept 17) his nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court remains “on track” despite a woman’s allegation that the judge sexually assaulted her in 1982, while the accuser and the nominee both offered to testify publicly.
In careful remarks at the White House in which he did not offer his view on the actual allegation against his nominee, Trump called for the Senate to go through a “full process” and accepted a small delay in the process, though warned that “it shouldn’t certainly be very much.”
“If it takes a little delay, it will take a little delay,” said Trump, who dismissed as a “ridiculous question” a reporter’s query about whether Kavanaugh, who earlier in the day issued a fresh denial of the allegation against him, had offered to withdraw his name from consideration.
“I think he’s very much on track,” Trump said.
While Democrats demanded a delay in a scheduled Thursday (Sept 20) vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination to allow the FBI to investigate, Senate Republicans struggled with how to proceed.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee overseeing the high-stakes nomination, said Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor in California who made the allegation, “deserves to be heard”.
Grassley and some other senior Senate Republicans stopped short of calling for a public hearing or for delaying the panel’s vote.
Moderates in both parties, including pivotal Republican Senator Susan Collins and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, said Kavanaugh and Ford should be given the chance to testify before the committee, a move that could delay the confirmation process.
Ford has accused Kavanaugh, a conservative appeals court judge chosen by Trump for a lifetime job on the top US court, of trying to attack her and remove her clothing while drunk in 1982 in a Maryland suburb outside Washington when they were students in different high schools.
In television interviews on Monday, Ford’s Washington-based lawyer, Debra Katz, said her client would be willing to speak out publicly.
Asked if that included sworn testimony at a public hearing before senators, Katz told CBS’s This Morning programme: “She’s willing to do what she needs to do.”
Trump’s fellow Republicans control the Senate by only a narrow margin, meaning any defections could sink the nomination and deal a major setback to Trump, who has been engaged in a so-far successful effort since becoming president last year to move the Supreme Court and broader federal judiciary to the right.
Trump picked Kavanaugh to replace the retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who sometimes sided with the court’s liberal wing. Without Kennedy on the court, the justices are split 4-4 between liberals and conservatives.
The confirmation fight comes just weeks before the Nov 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are seeking to take control of Congress from Trump’s fellow Republicans.
Grassley said the standard procedure would be to conduct follow-up telephone calls with Kavanaugh and Ford, and that he intended to work with the senior Democrat on the committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, to schedule the calls but that Democrats have refused to cooperate.
Grassley said he will continue working on a way to hear from Ford “in an appropriate, precedented and respectful manner.”
Kavanaugh visited the White House on Monday morning.
A senior official said Kavanaugh did not meet with Trump, who himself faced multiple accusations of sexual misconduct that emerged during the 2016 presidential election.
“He is somebody very special,” Trump said of his nominee. “At the same time, we want to go through a process. We want to make sure everything is perfect, everything is just right.”
“This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes – to her or to anyone,” Kavanaugh said in a statement issued by the White House, his first comment since Ford’s identity was revealed on Sunday.
“Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday,” added Kavanaugh, who said he is willing to talk to the Judiciary Committee in any way it deems appropriate “to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.
Kavanaugh has said he was not at the party where the incident was alleged to have occurred, according to a White House official.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said he spoke with Kavanaugh on Monday.
“The judge, who I know very, very well, is an honest man, so this didn’t happen,” Hatch said.
Republicans hold a slim 11-10 advantage on the Judiciary Committee and a 51-49 majority in the Senate. Under Senate rules, the committee could forward the nomination to the Senate floor without an affirmative vote.
White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said sworn testimony from both Kavanaugh and Ford on the specific allegation should be considered as part of the record in the judge’s hearings.
“This woman should not be insulted and she should not be ignored,” Conway said told Fox News.
The comments by Ford’s lawyer suggested any public hearing could be explosive. Ford believes Kavanaugh’s alleged actions were “attempted rape” and “that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped,” Katz told NBC’s Today programme.
Katz told CBS that Ford had consumed a beer but was not drunk. Ford was 15 at the time of the alleged incident. Kavanaugh was 17.
“Trying to rush this through on Thursday is an insult to the women of America and an insult to the majesty of the Supreme Court of the United States,” Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer told ABC’s The View.
The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group that backs Trump’s judicial picks, plans to launch a US$1.5 million (S$2 million) ad campaign backing Kavanaugh, a spokeswoman said.
Ford detailed her story in a letter sent to Feinstein in July. The letter’s contents leaked last week and Ford identified herself in an interview with the Washington Post published on Sunday.