The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on September 24 to allow Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and his accuser of sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, to have their say.
The hearing promises testimonies unprecedented in US politics since 1991, when Anita Hill accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
Mr Kavanaugh denied allegations that he assaulted Ms Ford 37 years ago, but the accuser’s decision to go public has put onus on Congress to hear her story and re-examine the nomination.
US President Donald Trump, in his first comments on the allegations, said he is open to holding hearings in order to see “a complete process.”
“If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay,” Mr Trump told reporters. “I think he’s on track”.
Just last week, the nomination of Mr Kavanaugh was almost a forgone conclusion having survived days of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But that all was upended on Sunday evening as Ms Ford, a professor in Palo Alto, came forward and publicly accused Mr Kavanaugh of sexual assault three decades ago. She described in detail to The Washington Post a sexual assault attempt by "stumbling drunk" Kavanaugh at a high school party. Ms Ford said she managed to escape but the trauma stayed with her and she struggled to forge normal relationships for years to come.
Mr Kavanaugh who visited the White House on Monday, denied the allegations. “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes, to her or to anyone” he said.
But the magnitude of allegations has ushered a political storm, and forced a high degree of uncertainty over Mr Kavanaugh's chances to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy's seat.
Four options stand out in how this could play out in the days, weeks or months to come:
The reaction from four prominent Republican senators, Jeff Flake, Lindsay Graham, Susan Collins and Bob Corker, asking to hear more from Ms Ford before a vote has tipped the scale in that direction. Mr Kavanaugh can only afford to lose one Republican vote given the Senate maths, and pushing for a vote before hearing from Ms Ford could torpedo his nomination.
While the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley has said he is working to set up calls with both Ms Ford and Mr Kavanaugh, a public testimony seems more likely.
Both Ms Ford and Mr Kavanaugh have expressed agreement to testify. .
“She is. She is willing to do whatever it takes to get her story forth,” Ms Ford’s lawyer Debra Katz said to NBC on Monday.
Mr Kavanaugh also said “I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation.”
Mr Kavanaugh withdraws his nomination:
With the controversy already endangering his chances, if Mr Kavanaugh does not get the support of two moderate women, Republican senators Susan Collins and Lisa Ann Murkowski, his nomination is difficult. Both senators remain undecided.
Also, the White House and Republicans in Congress, 50 days ahead of mid-term elections, would want to contain the haemorrhage among suburban women and could opt for an equally conservative pick that is less controversial.
Republicans push the vote anyway:
With Mr Grassley still calling for a vote this Thursday at the committee level, the Republican leadership could take a chance and hold a floor vote for Mr Kavanaugh as planned before the end of the month.
Even with a negative recommendation from the committee, if Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell can secure a simple majority (51 votes), that would give the party control of the Supreme Court for decades to come. He may opt to take the risk.
Given the lack of a simple majority behind Mr Kavanaugh yet, the Republican leadership and the White House may not have a choice but to delay this hearing.
This would put Mr Kavanaugh’s nomination in limbo, and subject it to a public battle between him and his accuser on the eve of the mid-terms. Key Democrats are calling to wait for a full FBI investigation, but it remains unlikely that the White House and the Republican leadership would agree to that option.