Senate Republicans are pushing ahead with a plan to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh soon after Thursday’s hearing where he and Christine Blasey Ford will testify about her allegation that he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is preparing a weekend session to run the procedural clock out before a final vote early next week, an unusual move reflecting the high stakes over a confirmation GOP senators want to campaign on in elections just weeks away.
"We’re going to be moving forward, I’m confident we’re going to win," Mr McConnell of Kentucky told reporters. "I’m confident that he will be confirmed in the very near future." The Supreme Court’s new term starts on Monday.
Democrats are furious about the GOP plan to hold a speedy vote without an FBI investigation of Ford’s and another woman’s accusations of sexual misconduct by Mr Kavanaugh.
Dr Ford, a California college professor, is set to testify on Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The New Yorker magazine quoted Deborah Ramirez as saying Mr Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a dormitory party that involved drinking when they both were Yale University freshmen. Senate Judiciary staff are seeking to interview Ms Ramirez, according to second-ranking Republican John Cornyn of Texas.
President Donald Trump called Ms Ramirez “all messed up” and “totally inebriated” in remarks to reporters Tuesday at the United Nations. He said the Senate must confirm Kavanaugh to protect the integrity of judicial nominations.
Third-ranking Senate Democrat Patty Murray of Washington accused Republicans of "jamming Judge Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court no matter what he’s done, without all the facts and as quickly as possible. Republicans need to stop trying to just rush this through."
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he doesn’t know if Thursday’s hearing will affect any senator’s vote, but said he’s "very confident" Mr Kavanaugh ultimately will get confirmed.
"I don’t think any Republican doubts he’s qualified. The only thing you could be concerned about is his character," Mr Graham said.
Republicans hired a female outside attorney experienced in sex crime cases to help lead their 11 members’ questioning of Ford on Thursday. All 11 Republicans on the committee are men, while four of the 10 Democrats are women.
"I don’t think because you happen to be a male you’re disqualified from listening to the evidence and making a decision based upon the evidence," Mr McConnell said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Democrats haven’t been told the identity of the outside lawyer, suggesting that Republicans "who want to rush this through are afraid to question Dr Ford themselves." GOP senators will be able to ask questions if they wish.
A Ford representative, Michael Bromwich, wrote to Grassley on Tuesday to object to the plan to have an outside lawyer lead the GOP questioning. He asked for the prosecutor’s identity and requested a meeting with the prosecutor on Tuesday.
The New Yorker said Ms Ramirez had hesitated to speak publicly, partly because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged episode and there were "gaps" in her memory. She decided to come forward after "assessing her memories" and consulting with her lawyer, the magazine said.
Mr Trump said on Tuesday: “She says, ‘Well it might not be him’ and there were gaps and she said she was totally inebriated and all messed up and she doesn’t know it was him. And it might have been him. Oh gee, let’s not make him a Supreme Court judge because of that?”
The Judiciary panel has announced no plans to hear publicly from Ramirez. Instead, bipartisan Judiciary Committee staff will seek to interview Ramirez privately about her allegation, Mr Cornyn said.
McConnell on Tuesday continued to defend Mr Kavanaugh.
“No matter how loudly my Democratic colleagues try to say otherwise,” Mr McConnell said on the Senate floor, “we have never been and do not wish to be a society in which a single uncorroborated allegation can float out across decades and wield veto power over somebody’s life.”
Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, told reporters he’s told his staff to clear his schedule so he can watch the hearing. He said he had a positive individual meeting with Mr Kavanaugh before the confirmation hearings. “I enter this with very positive thoughts about the nominee," Mr Corker said.
Republicans narrowly control the Senate, 51-49, and McConnell expressed confidence he can get at least 50 votes in favour of Kavanaugh, which could allow him to be confirmed with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote. Still, some GOP senators - including Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - insist they need to see how the hearing goes before making a final decision.
In a defiant appearance on Fox News Monday, Mr Kavanaugh said he "never sexually assaulted anyone," defending himself against allegations that threaten to unravel his confirmation. He insisted that he’s not withdrawing his nomination and said, "I want a fair process where I can defend my integrity."
"I was never at any such party" as the one described by Dr Ford, he said in the Fox interview. He said he may have met Dr Ford, who went to a different school, but he added, "We did not travel in the same social circle. She was not a friend, not someone I knew."