When 11 men interrogate: GOP tries to head off Kavanaugh debacle

John Cornyn, Lindsey Graham and Orrin Hatch

To head off the potentially bad optics of older white men questioning a woman about alleged sexual assault, Republicans are considering having an independent outside lawyer question Christine Blasey Ford alongside senators. | Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Senate Republicans are taking aggressive measures to avoid an Anita Hill redux as the Judiciary Committee prepares for a hearing on the sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

They’re off to a shaky start, if the past 24 hours is any indication.

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Already, Republicans supportive of Kavanaugh have downplayed the severity of Christine Blasey Ford’s story. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) questioned Ford’s motives. Others are frustrated that she has yet to agree to testify before the panel after asking for a chance to be heard, and wonder if she shows up whether the committee will truly be left with enough information to make a decision.

“The question is 36 years after the alleged incident. This is why, in criminal cases, we have statute of limitations,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “You’re simply not going to have enough witnesses or documents or other evidence to be able to, I think, reach a conclusive decision about the allegations.”

When Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee 27 years ago, its members tore at her credibility in terms so deeply personal that the hearing is now regarded as an embarrassment for the chamber. This time, their conduct could determine not just the public’s perception of their party but whether Kavanaugh wins the 50 votes needed to sit on the high court.

Exacerbating their challenge is the fact that every Republican on the panel is male — an echo of the all-male dais that questioned Hill in 1991. And all of the committee’s Republicans except for Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have been diehard Kavanaugh supporters, raising questions about how seriously they’ll take her testimony.

To head off the potentially bad optics of older white men questioning a woman about alleged sexual assault, Republicans are considering having an independent outside lawyer question Ford alongside senators. They’re also carefully controlling the hearing, allowing testimony from no witnesses other than Kavanaugh and Ford, and declining Democratic calls for the FBI to investigate Ford’s claim further.

Cornyn, a senior Judiciary member, said his party would “treat [Ford] with respect and dignity” to avoid a repeat of the Anita Hill hearing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he expects the committee will be “fair” to Ford.

Democrats have a different expectation.

“It’s going to be a shitshow,” said one Democratic senator.

Asked about the potential for a GOP pile-on if Ford testifies, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) would only say: “That’s the Republicans’ problem.”

Republicans are already taking shots at Ford. Graham questioned why she waited months after contacting The Washington Post and her Democratic representative in Congress to go public. He also expressed skepticism about some of the details of her story, including why she took a lie detector test administered by a former FBI agent.

“I don’t know when she took the polygraph. I don’t know who paid for it. I don’t know when she hired the lawyer. I don’t know who paid for it,” Graham said. “But if you didn’t want to go public why are you buying a polygraph and why are you hiring a lawyer? All those things will come out.”

Graham made similar comments about Ford on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, a favorite forum for conservatives.

A top outside surrogate for Kavanaugh, meanwhile, was dubious of what sort of behavior Ford is actually alleging. Ford told the Washington Post that Kavanaugh groped her and covered her mouth while forcing himself on her.

“Her allegations cover a whole range of conduct, from boorishness to rough horseplay to actual attempted rape,” Judicial Crisis Network chief counsel Carrie Severino said on CNN. “There’s 35 years of memory that we’re trying to play with here. But the behavior she describes could describe a whole range of things.”

Few other Republicans have joined them, training their fire instead on Senate Democrats and charging they are merely trying to disrupt the nomination at the last minute.

All 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee warned the GOP Tuesday that pushing ahead with a hearing before Ford has agreed to appear “repeat[s] mistakes of the past,” a nod to Hill.

Democrats don’t have the issue of an all-male Judiciary membership. Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, both former prosecutors, are among the party’s four women who sit on the panel.

“It obviously would be better if there were some Republican women. But I’m not a member of the committee, so I do not expect to be sitting with the committee,” added Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, one of three current Judiciary members who sat on the committee during the Hill hearings, dismissed questions about the potential political risk of 11 Republican men grilling Ford.

“You’re talking about history,” Grassley said. “We’re not looking back, we’re looking forward.”

His Republican colleagues concurred.

“You all are enjoying that story[line] quite a bit,” Cornyn told reporters, but “in the end we’re going to have a job to do and we’re going to do it.”

One GOP senator said the entire purpose of the Monday hearing is to satisfy three undecided Republicans, including Collins and Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona — as well as four undecided Democrats whom Republicans believe could vote for Kavanaugh.

“My hope is that all will be respectful, respectful of Dr. Ford and respectful of Judge Kavanaugh,” Murkowski said Tuesday.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee has a chance to redeem itself from the circus-like atmosphere of a couple weeks ago,” said Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), referring to days of disruptive protests by liberal activists. He added: “If I believe that these allegations are true, then I think it would be a disqualifying factor.”

Although both Ford and Hill’s stories weren’t aired publicly until after the initial round of Supreme Court confirmation hearings concluded, the Kavanaugh flap is playing out differently from the 1991 sexual harassment allegations against now-Justice Clarence Thomas in several important ways.

Hill’s hearings included 22 outside witnesses and an FBI investigation in advance of her testimony, which Democrats have pointed to in lamenting the FBI move to add the Ford allegation to Kavanaugh’s background file rather than conduct a separate inquiry.

One key witness, Mark Judge, whom Ford said was in the room at the time of the alleged assault, is refusing to testify before the panel. Grassley’s spokesman said Tuesday, however, that aides have “made contact with other alleged witnesses based on the Washington Post’s reporting.” Grassley’s office would not say late Tuesday which other individuals that Republicans have contacted.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the FBI should be devoting more resources to the decades-old Kavanaugh charges than it did to Hill’s allegations against Thomas. “The Hill case involved a two-day FBI investigation,” he said. “They asked for two weeks, but the committee went ahead anyway.”

The Justice Department said in a Monday night statement, however, that the FBI’s handling of the issue comports with a 2010 memo that governs background checks. “The allegation does not involve any potential federal crime,” a DOJ spokesperson said..

Democrats’ frustration over the FBI’s handling of Ford’s allegation isn’t deterring at least some of them from participating in Monday’s planned hearing. Both Durbin and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said they expect to attend, even if it’s just Kavanaugh testifying, though they prefer more witness and an FBI investigation.

“I do think there are now questions that are appropriate for us to ask Judge Kavanaugh,” Coons said.

Nolan McCaskill contributed to this report.

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Kavanaugh in 2015: ‘What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep’

Brett Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh gave no other context for the joke, but it gained attention anyway after it first surfaced on MSNBC because the judge has recently been accused of misconduct while he was a high school student. | Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Georgetown Prep’s unofficial saying, according to Brett Kavanaugh: What happens there, stays there.

The Supreme Court nominee made the crack in a 2015 speech at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, which he said was the alma mater of three of his friends. Kavanaugh said the trio had also been classmates when he attended Catholic high school at Georgetown Prep.

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“But fortunately, we had a good saying that we’ve held firm to to this day … which is: What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep,” Kavanaugh said, according to a video of the speech. “I think that’s been a good thing for all of us.”

Kavanaugh gave no other context for the joke, but it gained attention anyway after it first surfaced on MSNBC because the judge has recently been accused of misconduct while he was a high school student.

Christine Blasey Ford on Sunday came forward as the woman who had anonymously alleged that when they were both in high school, Kavanaugh had drunkenly groped her and pinned her down on a bed while a friend watched. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted the clip of Kavanaugh joking about Georgetown Prep, adding: “I can’t imagine any parent accepting this view. Is this really what America wants in its next Supreme Court Justice?”

Kavanaugh and Ford have been asked to testify at a hearing slated for Monday, but Ford has yet to say whether she will attend.

The 2015 talk in which the high-school joke arose was part of a lecture series in which Kavanugh was asked to talk about partisanship.

“Judges need to follow the law, not make the law,” Kavanaugh said during the speech. “That has to be our aspiration in a system of evenhanded justice. You have to check political allegiances at the door when you become a judge.”

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Supreme Court move could spur more dark-money disclosure

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court’s decision means groups making independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates running for Congress this fall may have a legal obligation to disclose their donors. | Zach Gibson/Getty Images

A Supreme Court action Tuesday struck a blow to a conservative group’s effort to shield its donors and could lead to more disclosure of who funds so-called dark money groups.

The decision Tuesday relates to a Federal Election Commission regulation that said independent political groups only had to name donors when their gifts were linked to specific sets of TV ads or mailers. A federal judge last month struck down that rule.

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The conservative group Crossroads GPS, hoping to avoid having to disclose its donors right before the 2018 midterms, asked the Supreme Court to freeze the lower court’s ruling and leave the old FEC regulation in place through November. But on Tuesday, the high court declined to do so.

The Supreme Court’s decision means groups making independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates running for Congress this fall may have a legal obligation to disclose their donors, even if they could have remained anonymous in past cycles.

“I think this means at least some more disclosures by some groups that do independent expenditures,” said Joe Birkenstock, former chief counsel to the Democratic National Committee.

Just how much transparency will be required for Crossroads’ and similar groups’ donors remains uncertain, lawyers said. Groups that solicited donors for money to be used in specific federal races could wind up having to disclose where the funds originated. But if solicitations were more vague, donors’ identities may still be protected.

A spokesman for the FEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ruling on a lawsuit the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington brought against Crossroads GPS, U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell said last month that the FEC’s rule impermissibly narrowed the federal law on the issue.

Crossroads asked both the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and Chief Justice John Roberts to halt Howell’s ruling before it was set to take effect Sunday, arguing that the lower court ruling could chill political speech. The D.C. Circuit declined, but Roberts issued an order Saturday freezing Howell’s decision pending further order from the high court.

It wasn’t immediately clear Saturday whether Roberts’ order would remain in place for some time or whether he was simply keeping the status quo in place while he consulted his colleagues about what to do.

On Tuesday, a new order from the Supreme Court said the issue was referred to all the justices and the stay was denied. Roberts’ initial order was also dissolved. None of the shorthanded court’s eight justices recorded any dissent.

The Supreme Court’s action may not be the end of the legal saga. Crossroads can still appeal the substance of Howell’s decision to the D.C. Circuit and on to the Supreme Court.

However, a Crossroads spokesman lamented the high court’s refusal to step in and halt Howell’s decision for the current election season.

“While we are disappointed the Supreme Court did not take this opportunity to ensure regulatory clarity for nonpolitical organizations that lawfully engage in election activity, we are confident we can navigate through the current morass and comply with the law, as we always have,” spokesman Chris Pack said.

Meanwhile, CREW celebrated the Supreme Court’s action.

“This is a great day for transparency and democracy,” CREW’s Noah Bookbinder said. “Three courts, including the Supreme Court, have now rejected Crossroads’ arguments for a stay, meaning we’re about to know a lot more about who is funding our elections.”

The initial CREW complaint and suit focused on Crossroads’ failure to disclose donors to a 2012 effort to defeat Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). However, Howell upheld the FEC’s dismissal of the complaint against Crossroads specifically, so the impact of her ruling will only be prospective.

Birkenstock said one way groups may try to shield their donors now is by backing away from so-called “express advocacy” ads and retreating to ads that don’t explicitly urge voters to support or defeat a candidate.

“You’ll see all sorts of people with different approaches and work-arounds. ‘Express advocacy’ may matter in a way it hasn’t for the last couple of cycles,” he said.

Since Howell only struck down a small portion of the FEC’s rules, groups will still be required to file reports on independent expenditures, often within 48 or 24 hours of making them.

One way to clear up potential confusion on the disclosure rules going forward would be for the FEC to issue a new regulation, but that body has often been deadlocked in recent years. At the moment, there are also two vacancies on the six-member board.

“There’s a lot we don’t know. A functional FEC would have written a regulation,” perhaps on an emergency basis to cover the upcoming election, Birkenstock said. “As of this afternoon, I feel as if the onus is on the four commissioners to come up with something.”

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Obamacare lawsuit boosts Democrats in state AG races

A rally in Texas to protest the Obamacare lawsuit

Democratic nominee for Texas Attorney General Justin Nelson (center) and others address supporters of the Affordable Care Act protest during a rally in Fort Worth, Texas on Sept. 5. Nelson told POLITICO he would withdraw the state from a lawsuit seeking to invalidate key parts of Obamacare “on my first day on the job.” | Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram via AP

Health Care

The threat to protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions has injected new energy and cash into many races.

Democrats believe they have their best chance in years to flip crucial state attorney general seats by trumpeting the same message that drew furious protesters to town halls and to the polls last year: Republicans are trying to take away your health care.

These down-ballot races usually fly under the radar, but they are front and center in 2018 as many Democratic officeholders have turned the positions into the cornerstone of resistance to President Donald Trump, challenging dozens of his policies in court, from the separation of immigrant families at the border, to the ban on travel from several Muslim countries, to the crackdown on marijuana sales in states that legalized the drug.

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With a blue wave already forecast for this November’s midterm elections, and the battle over the Affordable Care Act now playing out in the courts rather than in Congress, Democrats seeking to claim as many as a half dozen attorney general seats are using a lawsuit brought by 20 Republican AGs to abolish Obamacare as a political battering ram — highlighting its threat to the health law’s popular protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

The lawsuit has already injected unexpected energy and cash into many of the 30-plus races across the country for state attorneys general — a dozen of which are seen as competitive. Democratic challengers in battleground states like Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona are attacking the incumbents for bringing the lawsuit and vowing to withdraw their states from the case or join with states defending Obamacare.

Many are cutting ads saying the lawsuit could threaten health coverage for tens of millions of people with preexisting conditions, from children with cancer to adult diabetics, and holding rallies featuring people who struggled to obtain insurance before Obamacare due to a health condition.

Even in deeply conservative Texas, where the Republican governor is set to coast to an easy reelection, Democratic challenger Justin Nelson has relentlessly hammered the already scandal-plagued state Attorney General Ken Paxton on his role as the lead plaintiff in the case and is now within one point of Paxton in the polls.

“I will withdraw Texas from the lawsuit on my first day on the job,” Nelson told POLITICO. “Texas has one of the worst rates of uninsured people and one of the highest rates of pre-existing conditions in the country. We should be the leader in fighting to protect people from insurance companies, but instead we’re the face of the lawsuit to end coverage of pre-existing conditions.”

Paxton’s office did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

With Republicans controlling every lever of power inside the Beltway, state attorneys general have become a last line of defense for Democrats. Blue states, led by California, New York and Massachusetts, have repeatedly taken the Trump administration to court over a slew of its policy decisions and in some cases, won. Even in reliably Democratic states such as New York, the position’s increased visibility has led to fiercely competitive primaries as the party’s rising stars jockey to lead the anti-Trump resistance.

“The position is becoming more and more important as we see the federal government attempting to undermine our rights,” said Aaron Ford, the Democratic candidate for attorney general in Nevada. “And Democratic AGs are not only suing, they’re winning.”

Republican state attorneys general, meanwhile, have been at the forefront of the legal battles to take down Obamacare as the congressional repeal effort faltered. Back in February, 20 of them filed the latest suit, arguing Congress’ repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate penalty rendered the rest of the law unable to stand. The case was considered a long shot until the Trump administration announced in June that it would side in large part with the GOP-led states. Rather than defend the law, the Justice Department argued its protections for people with pre-existing conditions was unconstitutional without the mandate.

Though Republicans have successfully campaigned for several election cycles on promises to repeal Obamacare, a lawsuit going after the most popular piece of the law — and one Republicans repeatedly vowed to preserve — may prove politically perilous. A POLITICO-Morning Consult poll released Sept. 12 found that registered voters of every age group overwhelming responded that they trust Democrats in Congress more than Republicans to protect people with pre-existing conditions.

Another Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that three-quarters of the public believe it’s “very important” to preserve the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, including nearly 60 percent of Republicans. And an earlier June poll found that nearly two-thirds of voters say a candidate’s support for continued protections for people with preexisting health conditions is either the “single most important factor” or “very important” to their vote in the upcoming midterms.

But Republicans continue to bet that promises to dismantle the ACA will turn out their base, more than 75 percent of whom continue to oppose it. This year, Republican candidates for governor in Minnesota and Maine won their primaries by vowing to work to get rid of the ACA, as did Senate candidates in Wisconsin and Tennessee. And two AG slots opened up this year, in West Virginia and Missouri, because the incumbent Republicans are using their opposition to the health law as a jumping off point to run for the U.S. Senate.

Still, after watching the pro-Obamacare outpouring triggered last year by Congress’ unsuccessful repeal attempts, Democratic candidates believe the lawsuit will galvanize voters to cast ballots for them.

The issue has already come to dominate the Senate campaigns of the Democrats running against two of the lawsuit’s backers, West Virginia AG Patrick Morrisey and Missouri AG Josh Hawley. Sen. Joe Manchin’s latest TV ad even features him shooting a copy of the lawsuit with a rifle and saying that when it comes to Morrisey’s lawsuit taking away the health protections of West Virginians, “that ain’t gonna happen.”

Thanks in large part to the deep unpopularity of the suit, both Hawley and Morrisey are struggling to gain an advantage in states Trump won in 2016.

Democrats hope the lawsuit will not only help these vulnerable red-state senators, but also propel some of their attorney general candidates to victory. They are aided in part by the 2017 decision by Republicans to terminate a longstanding agreement not to target the other party’s AGs running for reelection, making a host of vulnerable incumbent Republicans fair game in 2018. The Democratic Attorneys General Association, which is pouring more than $12 million into the contests this year, is focusing on unseating the leading Republican attorneys general involved in the suit.

The group’s top candidates, such as Texas’ Nelson, are making the issue a centerpiece of their campaigns.

The morning a federal judge in Fort Worth heard oral arguments about the constitutionality of an Affordable Care Act without the individual mandate, Nelson held a rally across the street from the courtroom featuring Texans with pre-existing health conditions who could lose their coverage if the lawsuit succeeds. The law professor at the University of Texas at Austin then urged attendees to upload videos to his campaign website to “tell Ken Paxton how his unjust lawsuit against preexisting conditions would affect you.”

Similarly, Wisconsin Democrat Josh Kaul hopes to make the lawsuit an albatross around the neck of Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel — Paxton’s co-leader in the lawsuit. Kaul has held rallies outside the Wisconsin state capitol and federal courthouses denouncing the case and promising to withdraw from it immediately.

“I don’t think anyone in Wisconsin should be unable to obtain insurance coverage because they have a preexisting condition,” Kaul told POLITCO.

Schimel, who did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, said in a statement in June that the decision to bring the lawsuit was based simply on the law, not on ideological hostility to Obamacare.

“When Congress voted to remove the individual-mandate tax in December 2017, the constitutional underpinnings of the entire law fell apart,” he said.

Schimel’s campaign spokesman Matthew Dobler added that the attorney general “wants to see young people and those with pre-existing conditions covered; however, his job is not to write laws. It’s to defend constitutional laws and challenge unconstitutional laws.”

Some attorney general challengers are going even further, campaigning on promises to join the 17 Democratic AGs who intervened in the lawsuit to defend Obamacare after the Trump administration declined to do so.

“It’s a no-brainer that we need to be on the side of the people,” said January Contreras, the Democratic challenger in Arizona. “We will join the lawsuit to save the ACA so that people with preexisting conditions can continue to afford care without being discriminated against.”

Like Schimel, Arizona’s Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich says federal legislators, not attorneys general, would be responsible for the repercussions of the lawsuit.

“If the Court finds that the ACA is now unconstitutional, it’s up to Congress to enact a constitutionally sound health care law that protects all Americans,” Brnovich’s spokeswoman Katie Conner wrote in a statement to POLITICO.

Even Republican AGs who are not participating in the lawsuit haven’t been safe from attack.

Ohio’s Democratic challenger Steve Dettelbach held a conference call with reporters on the day of the oral arguments, excoriating AG Mike DeWine, who is now running for governor, for “not standing up for Ohioans” and defending the ACA.

Ford is making a similar argument in Nevada, and according to internal polling data his campaign shared with POLITICO, it has helped him gain a 5-point lead over his opponent.

“It’s unacceptable that our current AG and the candidate running to replace him refuse to take the side of Nevada families,” he told POLITICO. “We cannot let ourselves go back to the days when a child with asthma could be denied insurance.”

But while the lawsuit has dominated the conversation in health policy circles and in campaign ads across the country, some challengers worry the threat to the consumer health protections hasn’t not yet broken through to the general public with the intensity it did last year when voters mobilized to pressure Congress to back down from repealing the Affordable Care Act.

“We’re trying … to remind people that all the effort that went into lobbying Congress to keep preexisting conditions protections in 2017 is now at stake in this lawsuit,” Nelson said. “It’s time to raise it up to that level now, and I’m concerned we aren’t at that level yet.”

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McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify McConnell rips Democrats for handling of Kavanaugh nomination Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (R-Ky.) is privately warning GOP colleagues that there will be political fallout for the party if they fail to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, quashing any talk within his conference about pressuring Kavanaugh to drop out.

McConnell gathered Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in his Capitol Hill office Tuesday to buck up their resolve to get the nominee confirmed before the election, according to lawmakers who attended. 

“McConnell’s message was, ‘Get it done!’ He said there are a few issues that voters care about and the Supreme Court is one of them,” said one Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. 

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The lawmaker said this stern message from McConnell has tamped down any talk of pressing Kavanaugh to withdraw his name though “some of us may be thinking it.” 

The GOP leader later told reporters Tuesday, “I’m not concerned about tanking the nomination.” 

Republican senators also note there are no signs that President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN’s Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading ‘idiotic’ conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be ‘phenomenal’ president MORE, who on Tuesday said his pick didn’t “deserve” to have to deal with the political fallout from the allegations, would withdraw the nomination. 

The president on Tuesday accused Democrats of laying a political trap for Kavanaugh. 

“They knew what they were doing,” he said at a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda.

At the same time, Republican senators acknowledge there is a political risk to ramming Kavanaugh through the chamber or ganging up on Christine Blasey Ford, who is invited to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. 

A CNN/SSRS poll conducted before Ford’s allegations fully became public found tepid public support for Kavanaugh: 38 percent said the Senate should confirm him while 39 percent said “no” and 23 percent voiced no opinion. 

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGrassley agrees to second Kavanaugh hearing after GOP members revolt FEC: Cruz campaign didn’t violate rules with fundraising letter labeled ‘summons’ Cruz criticizes O’Rourke on Dallas shooting: Wish he wasn’t ‘so quick to always blame the police officer’ MORE (R-Texas), who is facing a competitive reelection race, said Tuesday that he hopes to avoid the circus-like atmosphere that surrounded the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill hearings of 1991. 

“I very much hope this hearing on Monday doesn’t become a political circus, and I think Democratic senators have an incentive to try to turn it into a circus so I hope they will exercise some restraint and hope they will focus on substance instead of theatrics,” he said. 

The harsh cross-examination of Senate Republicans toward Hill sparked a public backlash, which helped female Democratic candidates for Senate win election the following year. 

“It’s not going to look good to have 11 older white men asking Ford questions” about her memories of sexual assault, said one Republican senator, who said there’s fear within the conference of a political backlash. 

To limit the chances of a politically damaging public spectacle reminiscent of a Thomas-Hill redux, McConnell has floated the option of letting Ford testify in a closed session, without the presence of television cameras. 

McConnell and members of the Judiciary Committee also discussed the possibility of bringing on an outside, independent counsel to ask questions of Ford, which would shield Republican senators from looking like unsympathetic interrogators. 

The Senate used outside counsel to ask questions of key witnesses during the Watergate and Iran-Contra hearings, one GOP source noted. 

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday White House says Kavanaugh ready to testify over ‘false allegation’ MORE (Maine), a leading Republican moderate, on Tuesday proposed allowing Kavanaugh’s and Ford’s lawyers to take the lead in questioning the witnesses to lower the chances of a political spectacle. 

“That way you would avoid the disruption of going side to side,” she said. “I think we would get more information more quickly.”

McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyWife of ‘Glow’ director writes ‘Stop Kavanaugh’ on her arm for Emmy Awards Grassley agrees to second Kavanaugh hearing after GOP members revolt Murkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify MORE (R-Iowa) agreed to schedule an additional day of hearings for Kavanaugh to respond to Ford’s charges after getting strong pressure from three members of the Judiciary Committee: Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGrassley agrees to second Kavanaugh hearing after GOP members revolt Murkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday MORE (R-Ariz.), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseGrassley agrees to second Kavanaugh hearing after GOP members revolt Bill Kristol building ‘war machine’ to challenge Trump in 2020 primary Rand Paul ramps up his alliance with Trump MORE (R-Neb.) and Cruz. 

Flake threatened to vote “no” on Kavanaugh nomination if the Senate didn’t give Ford a chance to testify before the committee about her experience with Kavanaugh. 

Republicans, however, have unified behind Grassley’s decision to invite only Kavanaugh and Ford to testify.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats should end their hypocrisy when it comes to Kavanaugh and the judiciary Celebrities back both Cuomo and Nixon as New Yorkers head to primary vote Dems launch million digital ad buy in top Senate races MORE (D-N.Y.) argued that Kavanaugh’s high school friend, Mark Judge, who Ford said was present when Kavanaugh attempted to assault her, should also testify. 

Schumer called Grassley’s limited witness list “simply inadequate, unfair, wrong and a desire not to get at the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

“How could we want to get the truth and not have Mr. Judge come to the hearing,” Schumer asked on the Senate floor. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, Ford had not yet committed to appear before the committee on Monday. Republicans said they would likely hold the hearing anyway to hear Kavanaugh’s side of the story and not further delay his nomination. 

“I hope so,” Grassley said when asked if a hearing is going to take place.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchDem rep who met with Kavanaugh accuser: ‘She wanted her truth to come out’ Senate passes bipartisan bill to curb opioid crisis Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday MORE (Utah), a senior Republican on the committee, said if Ford doesn’t come to testify before the committee, a hearing will still likely take place Monday. 

“I think so,” he said. 

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