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Senate Republicans are playing straight into Democrats’ message about Brett Kavanaugh allegations

Senate Democrats keep saying Republicans are rushing on Kavanaugh. These sexual assault allegations are the next test.

Democratic Senators Meet On Capitol Hill
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) say Republicans are rushing the Kavanaugh nomination.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

If Christine Blasey Ford doesn’t show up Monday to testify before a Senate committee about her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school, Republicans have been very clear about what will happen next: They’re moving on.

If they do, they’ll play right into Democrats’ main talking point about Kavanaugh’s nomination: that it was rushed from the beginning to the end — even after serious allegations of sexual assault emerged. If the Democrats’ message is effective, two things could happen: It could convince Republicans senators to call for a more thorough investigation, or leave Kavanaugh’s confirmation sullied with scandal.

Both Republicans and Democrats say Ford should be heard. But Democrats say the investigation should happen independently, through federal investigators, and have repeatedly called for the FBI to reopen a background check into Kavanaugh. And they want to hear from witnesses — everyone from Kavanaugh’s classmate and friend Mark Judge, who was allegedly involved in the incident, to Ford’s family therapist, who recorded notes about the incident, as told by Ford, in 2012.

“There is corroboration in this charge,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said. “Why in god’s name do they think they could rush a vote through? The only reason to rush a vote through is to say, who cares about sexual assault? But we ought to care about sexual assault.”

Hearing Ford testify is all Republicans are willing to do.

Senate Judiciary Chair Sen. Chuck Grassley clarified that there would only be two witnesses at a hearing scheduled for Monday: Ford and Kavanaugh. And when Ford said she wanted the FBI to investigate her claims before she testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley doubled down: “Nothing the FBI or any other investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr. Ford tells the committee, so there is no reason for any further delay.”

Ford’s allegations — which Kavanaugh has unequivocally denied — seemed as if they could upend his confirmation. Instead, it’s led to a replay of the same argument Republicans and Democrats have had throughout his confirmation process: Democrats call for more time and information about Kavanaugh’s record and past, and Republicans push toward a vote before the midterm elections. It’s the same fight the two parties had about releasing records from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House — except now the issue at hand isn’t a stack of documents, but a woman who claims her sexual assault led to decades of trauma.

Republicans and Democrats are talking past each other

Nothing about the handling of Ford’s allegation in Congress has been bipartisan. The attacks started the day after Ford went public with her allegations. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted Democrats for not bringing up the allegations against Kavanaugh earlier in the confirmation process.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee received a letter from Ford detailing the allegations in July, and eventually referred the matter to the FBI without informing the Senate Judiciary Committee in September. Feinstein maintains she did not come forward with the claims in order to protect the confidentiality requested by Ford. But eventually, news of a letter was leaked to the press, and the content trickled out over time.

Republicans say the timing is suspect.

“It is an accusation which the ranking member of the committee of jurisdiction has known about for at least six weeks, yet chose to keep secret until the eleventh hour,” McConnell said Monday of Feinstein’s knowledge, praising Republicans for bringing order and transparency back to the process.

“Chairman Grassley is following standard practice and regular order, and he stated he plans to pursue this matter by the book,” McConnell said.

Despite Democratic calls to keep the investigation independent, the Republican staff on the Judiciary Committee held calls with Kavanaugh and tried to contact Ford on Monday. Democrats did not participate, in part because they said they were not given enough notice, and in part because they said congressional staff should not be involved.

Republicans went forward anyway. Grassley scheduled a hearing for Monday, where Kavanaugh and Ford were invited to testify. Feinstein said she heard about it through the press.

For days, Republicans and Democrats have been talking past each other, establishing what they deem as an appropriate investigation into these allegations. But at the end of the day, Republicans run the process, and they’ve been clear: Ford can testify if she’d like.

Otherwise, this is a done deal.

Democrats are saying this process is not normal

Democrats want the allegations against Kavanaugh to remind Americans what happened with Anita Hill, the woman who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in the 1990s and watched him get confirmed anyway.

They don’t just want to draw a parallel. They’re arguing that Senate Republicans in 2018 are doing less to investigate allegations of sexual assault than the Senate did in 1991, when it was controlled by Democrats.

“Chairman Grassley today said there would be only two witnesses invited to testify at the Kavanaugh hearing next week on sexual assault allegations,” Sen. Feinstein said in a statement Tuesday. “Compare that to the 22 witnesses at the 1991 Anita Hill hearing and it’s impossible to take this process seriously.”

In Hill’s case, the FBI, at the direction of George H.W. Bush, reopened its background check into Thomas. This time, however, Trump, who has repeatedly said he wants the “process” to go forward, has made no indication that he will order the FBI to investigate the allegations as part of that process. He’s praised Kavanaugh repeatedly.

And Senate Republicans say there is no need for any further investigation — nor can they picture what that would look like.

“I don’t know how you investigate something that happened 35 years ago,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said. “I don’t know how you investigate that. Again, to me, the important thing was to let her be heard.”

Ford told the Washington Post that Kavanaugh held her down at a high school party in the 1980s and attempted to force himself on her, covering her mouth to quiet her protests. Her allegations were documented by her therapist in notes from sessions in 2012 and 2013, in which Ford talked about a “rape attempt” and being attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school.” Kavanaugh denied the allegations, as did another male classmate who Ford said was involved in the incident.

“What about other witnesses like Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge?” Feinstein asked. “What about individuals who were previously told about this incident? What about experts who can speak to the effects of this kind of trauma on a victims?”

There has been no federal investigation into these specific allegations.

Democrats message is that Kavanaugh’s nomination was rushed. They want to slow it down.

By Wednesday morning, when it became clear that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were ready to move on from Ford’s allegations, Democrats reiterated their point: The process is broken.

“We should honor Dr. Blasey Ford’s wishes and delay this hearing. A proper investigation must be completed, witnesses interviewed, evidence reviewed and all sides spoken to. Only then should the chairman set a hearing date,” Feinstein said Wednesday.

“This is another attempt by Republicans to rush this nomination and not fully vet Judge Kavanaugh,” she had noted earlier this week.

For months, Republicans have been pushing to get Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court before the 2018 midterm elections, to avoid the small-but-possible risk that Republicans lose control of the Senate.

From the beginning, Democrats have said the procedure, in which the Senate first reviews a nominee’s entire public record and then has the opportunity to question it, has been thrown out the window. First it was about the documents — the Bush White House library released 42,000 pages of documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House Monday night, just hours before the start of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings earlier this month. And now with allegations of sexual assault, as Republicans look poised to move forward without much investigation.

As Vox explained, while the pace of Kavanaugh’s confirmation isn’t necessarily unprecedented — the timeline is.

“So far the Republican leadership has completely disrespected this survivor,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said. “There is no way we should have this hearing without having a full fair investigation. There is no way to fairly have this hearing without having corroborating witnesses come forward as well. What has been proposed is a sham.”

It a strategy that could either upend the confirmation process altogether, by convincing Republicans senators that serious allegations are being overlooked, or simply emphasize what Democrats have been telling Americans all along: that the cards are stacked against them.

Democrats may not be able to stop Kavanaugh from getting a vote, but they now have more fodder for the talking point they’ve been pushing all along: that Republicans are in a hurry.

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