The historic Senate hearing featuring dueling testimony from US supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and university professor Dr Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused him of sexual assault, has arguably left Washington even more bitterly divided than it was before.
The emotionally charged proceedings on Thursday saw both Kavanaugh and Ford bring their cases before the Senate judiciary committee, leaving it in the hands of lawmakers to assess the credibility of their accounts and their characters and, ultimately, Kavanaugh’s suitability for America’s highest bench.
But even after an entire day’s testimony, the federal judge’s fate remains unclear. Republicans huddled after the hearing, while Donald Trump demanded the Senate proceed with a vote, leaving a handful of possibilities for Kavanaugh’s prospects in the coming days.
Senate committee holds vote
The Senate judiciary committee is tasked with clearing Kavanaugh’s nomination prior to the full chamber holding a vote. The committee is currently comprised of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, leaving the majority with little margin for error – if just one Republican breaks, the nomination will be left in limbo.
At least one Republican on the committee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, has expressed reservations about Kavanaugh amid the allegations. He has not signaled how he might vote. Even if the panel narrowly approves Kavanaugh, it is not clear if he has sufficient votes to be confirmed by the Senate, where Republicans can similarly only afford to lose one vote before vice-president Mike Pence would be called in a tie-breaker.
All eyes are on crucial GOP swing-vote senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who have both raised concerns about Kavanaugh.
Senate committee defers vote
The vote could still be postponed if Republicans believe pressing forward might backfire. The Senate GOP conference is poised to meet behind closed doors late Thursday, where a plan will likely be hashed out for how to proceed.
Republicans are nonetheless working against a clock to confirm Kavanaugh. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has pledged to wrap up the supreme court process prior to the November midterm elections.
White House pulls nomination
On Wednesday, Donald Trump had not ruled out withdrawing Kavanaugh’s nomination, pending the outcome of Thursday’s hearing. Speaking with reporters at the United Nations, Trump defended Kavanaugh but said he looked forward to what Ford had to say.
“I can be persuaded also,” Trump said. “I’m going to see what’s said. It’s possible they will be convincing.”
Trump reportedly phoned Kavanaugh ahead of Thursday’s hearing and urged him to push back forcefully, and many observers interpreted Kavanaugh’s aggressive testimony as intended for the president.
Then having restrained himself from Twitter all day, the president weighed in as the hearing wrapped with a resounding endorsement of his nominee, which now makes it extremely unlikely that the White House will torpedo their man.
Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2018