The Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on Friday on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court.
The committee vote is set to take place the day after Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford are to give evidence about her allegation he sexually assaulted her when they were teens.
The committee will be voting on whether to recommend Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate. Senators were told to be prepared for a rare weekend session and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was confident Kavanugh would be confirmed.
Kavanaugh has denied Ford’s claim and that of Deborah Ramirez, who has accused the nominee of exposing himself to her without consent during his time at Yale University.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump ramped up his criticism of Ford and Ramirez on Friday, calling the allegations against Kavanaugh “a con game being played by Democrats”.
The lawyer representing Ramirez hit back, saying Republican staffers are involved in “game playing”. He accused Republicans of continually changing conditions of how Ramirez could tell her story. As of Tuesday, Ramirez had not been invited to give evidence.
Both women have called for an FBI investigation.
Trump’s escalation in rhetoric came as the Judiciary Committee announced the hiring of Rachel Mitchell, a lawyer who is “an expert sex crimes prosecutor” for Thursday’s hearing.
In a break from convention, Mitchell will question Ford and Kavanaugh on behalf of the committee’s Republican senators, 11 men. Typically, senators do the questioning themselves.
On Monday, women and their supporters from across the US walked out of their offices, business and homes to support Ford and Ramirez, as well as all women who have shared stories of sexual assault.
The protests came on the same day a letter Ford sent to Republican Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary chairman, was made public. In the letter, Ford said she faced death threats and was relying on her lawyers and Grassley to “agree to conditions that will allow me to testify in a fair setting”.
“While I am frightened, please know, my fear will not hold me back from testifying and you will be provided answers to all of your questions,” Ford wrote. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
Also on Monday, Kavanaugh said he would not step aside, saying “the truth is I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone, in high school or otherwise”.
The controversy over Kavanaugh is unfolding just weeks before November 6 congressional elections in which Democrats are trying to take control of Congress from Trump’s fellow Republicans, against a backdrop of the #MeToo movement fighting sexual harassment and assault.
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. About 63 percent of sexual assaults in the US are not reported to the police. More than 90 percent of sexual assault survivors on US college campuses do not report the incident.