Republicans flex muscle ahead of Kavanaugh hearing

Accuser to have say at Thursday's hearing

By STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Brett Kavanaugh

(CNN) - Republicans aren't waiting for Brett Kavanaugh's main accuser to have her say.

With a generational conservative goal of a Supreme Court majority in sight, Senate GOP leaders are sketching a voting timetable that could see him confirmed within days even as they brace for a crucial hearing on Thursday on which the judge's fate rests.

In another bold move, the party hired a female prosecutor experienced in sex crime cases to question Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who accuses him of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers in the 1980s. Kavanaugh denies all the allegations against him.

The GOP power play could see the Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh's nomination as soon as Friday, procedural votes at the weekend and a final Senate decision by early next week, assuming there are no more complications.

The choice of veteran attorney Rachel Mitchell to ask the questions represents a stiff challenge to Ford, who will be stepping into a global spotlight to tell her story at a quintessential moment of American history. She had hoped to be fielding the less-focused queries of a male-only bench of Republican senators.

The GOP attempt to restore Kavanaugh's momentum came amid tangible impatience in the party over his stalled progress, and as President Donald Trump's frustration erupted in a stunning personal attack on the judge's accusers, charging their claims were just a Democratic "C-O-N."

"It's a very dangerous game for our country," Trump said Tuesday, adding that a Deborah Ramirez, a second woman who came forward with a complaint about Kavanaugh while he was at Yale University, had "nothing" and saying she was "messed up" and "drunk" at the time of the alleged incident.

And in a late-night tweet Tuesday, Trump warned "the Democrats are playing a high level CON GAME in their vicious effort to destroy a fine person. It is called the politics of destruction. Behind the scene the Dems are laughing. Pray for Brett Kavanaugh and his family!"

The Republican gambit also left Democrats seeking new ways to slow Kavanaugh's progress amid speculation that new allegations could emerge to weaken his candidacy -- a possibility that the GOP seemed to be trying to forestall by driving forward swiftly in the confirmation process.

But it also appeared to risk inflaming the toxic politics around the nomination and falling foul of the changed environment around allegations of sexual misconduct involving powerful men as the #MeToo movement changes politics, the media, business and Hollywood.

The fact that anyone with power in Washington is living on their nerves as the confirmation fight intensifies also underscores the massive stakes Kavanaugh's nomination represents with midterms less than six weeks away.

Women voters already favor Democrats over Republicans ahead of November's elections, so the party can ill afford to seen as further traumatizing Ford.

"Rush Limbaugh to Republicans: 'You can kiss the MIDTERMS goodbye if you don't get highly qualified Kavanaugh approved.'" Trump tweeted.

Kavanaugh's interview boosts GOP

Republicans appeared encouraged Tuesday by Kavanaugh's Fox News appearance with his wife, in which he vehemently denied any sexual wrongdoing and vowed that his nomination would not be driven out of the confirmation fight by a "false allegation."

With some senators predicting procedural votes in the Senate on the nomination at the weekend, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, scheduled a vote in his committee on Friday in the hope that Republicans on the panel will be ready to move forward after hearing from Ford.

Democrats reacted with fury to Grassley's move, saying that it prejudged the outcome of Thursday's hearing and showed Republicans didn't want a fair process and had no interest in finding the truth.

"For Republicans to schedule a Friday vote on Brett Kavanaugh today, two days before Dr. Blasey Ford has had a chance to tell her story, is outrageous," said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

"First Republicans demanded Dr. Blasey Ford testify immediately. Now Republicans don't even need to hear her before they move ahead with a vote," she said.

Another Democrat, Sen Jeff Merkley of Oregon, complained that Republicans were conducting a "jammed through, unfair process" on a lifetime Supreme Court appointment.

"The President is attacking the victims. That is just horrific in this day and age. I guess that is what we have come to expect from this individual in the Oval Office," Merkley said on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."

And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, jabbed GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in unusually personal terms, saying he owed Ford an apology for labeling her allegations as a "smear job."

But McConnell, of Kentucky, indicated that he believes that nothing that happens on Thursday will keep Kavanaugh from the court.

"We're going to be moving forward, I'm confident we're going to win. I'm confident ... he will be confirmed in the very near future." McConnell told reporters.

But despite laying the groundwork for a vote, Republican leaders still cannot count on holding their majority.

If two Republicans defect and all the Democrats vote against Kavanaugh, his nomination is doomed. The two most likely GOP senators to flip, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are under intense political pressure from both sides of the aisle.

Murkowski appeared to hint at daylight with the leadership of her party Tuesday, suggesting that Ramirez, whose allegations broke in a story in The New Yorker over the weekend, should be brought into the congressional process. Asked whether an FBI investigation would help, a vetting step rejected by the committee and the White House, Murkowski answered: "It would sure clear up all the questions, wouldn't it?"

Collins refused to tip her hand, but did dismiss Democratic calls to postpone the Thursday's hotly anticipated committee proceedings, saying, "I think the hearing this week is very important."

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect the correct date of President Donald Trump's tweet.

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