Calls from both Democrats and Republicans to delay a vote on US President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee continued to mount on Monday after a woman, who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, came forward over the weekend.
Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor in California, told the Washington Post on Sunday that Kavanaugh groped her and tried to take off her clothes at a party when they were teenagers in 1980s. Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the allegations, reiterating again on Monday that he has never done “anything like what the accuser describes – to her or anyone”.
Both Kavanaugh and Ford have said they are willing to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the allegations.
On Monday, all 10 Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats called on the panel’s Republican chairman to postpone this week’s planned committee vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination. According to US media, some Republicans on the panel also said the vote should be delayed until the committee can hear Ford’s testimony.
Republican Jeff Flake told Politico late on Sunday that he wasn’t “comfortable voting yes” if a vote is held “without any attempt with hearing what she’s had to say”. He added: “We need to hear from her. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.”
Republican Bob Corker also said delaying the vote “would be best for all involved”.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley plans to speak with Kavanaugh and Ford before the committee’s scheduled vote, according to a spokesman for the senator. The spokesman made no mention of a hearing.
Republicans hold a slim 11-10 advantage on the Judiciary Committee. The panel’s vote only serves as a recommendation and Kavanaugh’s confirmation can still be brought to a vote in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-49 majority, even without the committee’s approval.
Kavanaugh has had a relatively smooth confirmation track until the allegations against him were reported last week. Ford, whose identity was unknown until Sunday, had sent a letter to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein in July. In the letter, Ford said she had received medical treatment after the assault, adding that “it is upsetting to discuss sexual assault and its repercussions, yet I felt guilty and compelled as a citizen about the idea of not saying anything”.
Kavanaugh’s supporters have questioned why the allegations surfaced only after he underwent four days of questioning in early September.
‘This woman should not be ignored’
Kavanaugh arrived at the White House on Monday, shortly after issuing a strongly worded statement denying Ford’s allegation and stressing his willingness to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee to “refute it”. It is unclear whom the Trump Supreme Court pick was meeting.
Although the White House appeared to stand behind Kavanaugh, senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said on Monday that 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 in an interview with Fox News.
At the same time, Conway described 53-year-old Kavanaugh, a Washington federal appeals court judge, as “a man of character and integrity” who had already gone through deep vetting by the FBI.
Trump said on Monday it was OK with him if the Senate confirmation vote is briefly delayed. “If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay,” Trump told reporters. But Trump said he believed Kavanaugh’s nomination remained on track and he has full confidence in his nominee, who he said has “never even had a little blemish on his record”.
“We want to go through a full process … and hear everybody out,” Trump said, adding that he wished Democrats would have brought up the accusations against Kavanaugh sooner.
If confirmed, Kavanaugh is expected to tip the scale in favour of conservatives, potentially further threatening women’s access to abortion, restrictions on presidential powers and efforts to curb gun ownership. He would serve the court for life.
Ford’s allegations come nearly a year after the #MeToo movement was popularised following the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct by Hollywood Producer Harvey Weinstein, who has since been charged with rape and other sexual crimes. Weinstein denies the allegations.
Since then, allegations of sexual abuse have rocked numerous industries and professions including the media and political scene. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in three women in the United States experience some form of sexual violence in their lives.
Ford’s challenge also evoked the 1991 battle over the Republican nomination of Clarence Thomas, now the court’s most conservative justice.
During his hearings, allegations from a former colleague, law school professor Anita Hill, surfaced accusing him of repeated sexual harassment when they worked together.
Hill endured a brutal assault on her personal reputation in hearings and in conservative media and the all-male Republicans on the committee ultimately backed Thomas.