Judge Brett Kavanaugh was headed toward likely confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, despite the best efforts of a number of Democrats to derail the nomination. In fact, several red state Democrats, including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, were probably going to join Senate Republicans in support of President Trump’s nominee.
However, that scenario has been thrown into doubt because of the allegation by Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party in the 1980s when they were both teenagers. Ford said Kavanaugh and a friend locked her in a room where a drunken Kavanaugh pushed her down, tried to pull off her clothes, turned the music up loud and put his hand over her mouth. “I feared he may inadvertently kill me,” she said.
Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegation. “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or anyone,” he said in a statement. Both Kavanaugh and Ford say they are willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
That testimony has now become essential to the confirmation process. The Senators and the country must hear both the accuser and the accused under oath to help determine who is telling the truth and who is lying.
Manchin, who has taken a wait-and-see approach to Kavanaugh, is putting more sand in his hour glass. He tweeted out Monday, “Professor Christine Blasey Ford deserves to be heard and Judge Kavanaugh deserves a chance to clear his name. Both have said they are willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee and I hope they will be given the opportunity to do that as quickly as possible.”
Manchin’s position on Kavanaugh is significant beyond the matter of confirmation. He is in a tough re-election fight with Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. A Manchin “no” vote on Kavanaugh would open him up to attacks by Morrisey that Manchin votes against President Trump, who has a 60 percent approval rating in the state.
Republican West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who came out in support of Kavanaugh earlier in the process, released a statement through a spokesperson. “Senator Capito believes this allegation should be taken seriously and that both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh should be given the opportunity to share their accounts publicly with the Judiciary Committee. She hopes to learn more as Chairman Grassley, his staff, and committee members look into these claims.”
Politically, Capito does not want to cross President Trump or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and every GOP vote is needed for confirmation, but what if Ford’s testimony is reputable and Capito believes she is telling the truth?
Then the question for Capito and every other Senator is whether a sexual assault by a boy while in high school and the lying about it is enough to disqualify that individual from the country’s highest court.
Republicans have to be careful here. The #MeToo movement has raised public consciousness about sexual harassment and sexual assault, particularly by men in positions of power. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee will want to get the truth from Ford, but if she is a credible witness, none will want to conduct a grueling cross examination reminiscent of Senator Arlen Specter’s questioning of Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’s confirmation.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) has said the allegations need to be flushed out. “Anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has deserves to be heard, so I will continue working on a way to hear her out in an appropriate, precedented and respectful manner,” Grassley said.
Republicans and Democrats on the committee have not agreed on much during the confirmation hearings, but they should be able to agree on that.