Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was incensed in his opening remarks Monday afternoon, by which I mean he used a few sharp words and even inflected his voice a couple of times. McConnell described Democrats’ “choreographed smear campaign” against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as “despicable” and a “new low” designed to “destroy a man’s personal and professional life.” Lest anyone think that Republicans might consider pulling Kavanaugh should further allegations surface, McConnell offered resolve.
“I want to make it perfectly clear,” he said. “Judge Kavanaugh will be voted on, here on the Senate floor. Up or down, on the Senate floor, this fine nominee to the Supreme Court will receive a vote, in the Senate, in the near future.”
A day after allegations of sexual misconduct from a second accuser, Kavanaugh’s former Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez, surfaced in the New Yorker, Republicans put on a show of confidence in the nominee as the president reportedly grew impatient with the languid pace of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. The nominee, too, put on a show of confidence in himself, appearing with his wife in a Fox News interview and sending a defiant, defensive letter to the Judiciary Committee. While Republican senators did a passable job masking their impatience, at least initially, with Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations last week, they made little such effort on Monday.
Just about every Republican I heard from today observed that the New York Times—even the liberal New York Times, etc.—had passed on the Ramirez story. (Reasons for why the Times didn’t publish it are in dispute.) Judiciary Committee Republicans have reached out to Ramirez’s lawyers for more information but claim they haven’t made much progress.
“We are told that if we want to know the allegations, ‘read the New Yorker,’ ” Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, a committee member, told reporters Monday. (He clarified that this was a paraphrase.) “And that’s all they’re willing to say.”
Even if they do hear from Ramirez, and Ramirez says she’s willing to testify, there is zero indication that Republicans would delay their schedule once again to accommodate her. They say they take all allegations like this seriously, and wouldn’t want to say anything untoward, but the overriding feeling is: It’s time to wrap things up.
“You’re always concerned when somebody makes an allegation against someone with the type of impeccable record that this particular individual has,” South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds told me of the Ramirez story. So should the schedule, where a committee vote could come as soon as Ford walks out of the hearing room on Thursday, be pushed back?
“I think we’re going to move forward with the schedule, and we’ll just let the chips fall,” Rounds said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, who’s not exactly freewheeling with the media these days, said that “committee staff was, as I understand it, looking at the allegations, and we need to look at actual facts.” Should Ramirez testify at the Thursday hearing, though? “As I said, the committee is looking at the allegations.”
Retiring Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, ornery and with one foot out the door, came through by saying what his colleagues wouldn’t, calling the allegations “phony.” When asked why he thought that, he elaborated: “Because I know it is. That’s why.”
But what about the people who actually matter? Brett Kavanaugh could go on a cannibalistic massacre down Pennsylvania Avenue and still have 47 votes. This comes down to four senators: Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Flake, and Bob Corker. If two of them join all Democrats in opposing Kavanaugh, the nomination would be defeated.
Neither Collins, Flake, nor Corker appeared to enter the Capitol through the Senate subway system as they usually do. And when Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski arrived, so many reporters got on the escalator to chase her that it broke.
Asked whether she wanted to see Ramirez testify, Murkowski said, “That’s up to [her].” Murkowski’s vote, though, still seems to hinge on Ford’s testimony.
“We’ve got a hearing on Thursday, and I’m going to be listening to the hearing,” she told reporters. Susan Collins, who still sounds generally impressed with Kavanaugh, told CNN that she would make a decision after Thursday’s hearing too.
It’s difficult to tell whether the show of confidence on Monday afternoon, in which the New Yorker allegations seemed to make very little difference to Kavanaugh’s prospects, is real or not. It could just be a façade Republicans are putting up while they await polling data on how Kavanaugh’s confirmation would affect the midterms. It could be a desperate last effort to save a nomination that’s sinking. Or it could be as clear as what Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a leader of the GOP membership, told me when I asked if they were still 100 percent committed to confirming Kavanaugh.
“Seems like it to me,” he said.