After setting in motion a process that likely will lead to a final confirmation vote Saturday on Brett Kavanaugh, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared on the Senate floor Thursday the supplemental FBI investigation does not corroborate accusations of sexual assault against the nominee.
The characteristically mild-mannered Senate leader accused his Democratic colleagues of desperately trying to shift attention from the fact that Kavanaugh is as qualified as any nominee they’ve ever seen. Instead, he said, the opposition is engaging in the “politics of personal destruction,” fostering a “shameful spectacle which is an embarrassment” to the Senate and the nation.
“For goodness sake, this is the United States of America,” he said. “Nobody is supposed to be guilty until proven innocent in this country.”
Late Wednesday night, McConnell filed “cloture” on the Kavanaugh nomination, meaning senators will vote Friday on whether to create a 30-hour window in which to hold a final vote.
Because of the precedent set by then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2013, 60 votes no longer are needed to prevent a filibuster and move to a final vote. With Reid having “triggered the nuclear option” to advance three Obama nominees to the D.C. Circuit, where Kavanaugh is a judge, McConnell last year “went nuclear” himself, changing the rules to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
Republicans hold a 51-49 majority and can lose only one vote. Vice President Mike Pence would break a 50-50 tie.
Two of the three Republican swing votes commented Thursday on the FBI report.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. – who triggered the supplemental FBI probe delaying the final vote by conditionally agreeing with his Republican Senate Judiciary Committee colleagues to report the nomination to the Senate – told reporters, “Thus far, we’ve seen no new, credible corroboration – no new corroboration at all.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said “it appears to be a very thorough investigation, but I am going back later today to personally read the interviews.”
The third swing vote, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has not commented yet.
Three Democrats in tight races for re-election in states Trump won in 2016 also were said to be possible votes for Kavanaugh, Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
Heitkamp and Donnelly indicated Thursday they will vote no, and Manchin apparently is undecided.
Schumer: Democrats’ ‘fears realized’
Just prior to McConnell’s remarks on the Senate floor, Democratic Senate leaders told reporters they were not satisfied with the scope of the FBI supplemental probe.
The ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who kept Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation under wraps until it was leaked to media, charged the White House “tied the FBI’s hands.”
Nine people were interviewed and one statement was submitted, adding to the 146 people the bureau already had spoken with regarding Kavanaugh.
Feinstein insisted, however, it was “not credible” for the White House and Senate Republicans to argue that the FBI didn’t need to interview Ford and Kavanaugh because their testimony before the Senate was sufficient.
“The most notable part of this report is what’s not in it,” said Feinstein,
She said the investigation “was very limited, and it will be interesting after all of the members have an opportunity to read and come to conclusions.”
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats had “many fears” about the FBI probe, and “those fears have been realized.”
Schumer said he disagreed with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley’s conclusion that there was “no hint of misconduct” in the review.
Grassley said the “uncorroborated accusations have been unequivocally and repeatedly rejected by Judge Kavanaugh, and neither the Judiciary Committee nor the FBI could locate any third parties who can attest to any of the allegations.”
Speaking to reporters in response to further Democrat complaints, an exasperated Grassley said, “What I’ve been dealing with since July the 10th, the downhill slope that Schumer’s put us on, is really dealing with a demolition derby.”
Schumer said he wants the report, with proper redactions to be made public. And he wants to see the directive White House counsel Don McGahn made to the FBI, “because we believe it greatly constrained the investigation from the get go.”
Senate ‘will not be intimidated’
On the Senate floor, McConnell said the Kavanaugh confirmation process has been “ruled by fear and anger and underhanded gamesmanship for too long.”
Alluding to public harassment by left-wing activists “rampaging through the halls, going to people’s homes,” he said senators “owe it to the American people not to be intimidated by these tactics.”
“The Senate will not be intimidated,” he said.
McConnell said the Senate will not allow “partisan histrionics” to “take away the basic fairness that everyone deserves.”
“We will not be hoodwinked by those who want to smear this man, drag him through the mud,” he said, referring to Kavanaugh.
McConnell addressed criticism by Democrats that Kavanaugh’s impassioned rebuttal of Ford’s testimony showed he lacks the judicial temperament required of a Supreme Court justice. He noted, for one, that the American Bar Association, in giving Kavanaugh its highest rating of “well qualified,” praised the judicial temperament he has displayed in 12 years on the D.C. Court of Appeals.
The Senate leader said that Kavanaugh, at the hearing one week ago, “spoke up to forcefully in defense of his good name and his family against this outrageous smear conducted in conjunction with Senate Democrats.”
“Who among us would not have been outraged by having a lifetime record drug through the mud with accusations that cannot be proved … in a blatant attempt to insist presumption of innocence no longer applies,” he said.
“I admire him for standing up for himself and for his family,” McConnell said. “I’d be shocked if he didn’t.”
The leader said the Senate has the opportunity “to do good here and to underscore the basic tenet of fairness in our country.”
“I will be proud to vote to advance this nomination tomorrow,” he said.
‘Dr. Ford won America’s hearts’
An angry Schumer took to the dais after McConnell insisting the majority leader “knows how believable Dr. Ford was” and that her “credibility was greater” than Kavanaugh’s.
He zeroed in on McConnell’s complaint of “partisan histrionics,” asking, “Are you accusing Dr. Ford of partisan histrionics?”
“Are you accusing Dr. Ford of engaging in the politics of personal destruction?” he continued.
“Are you accusing Dr. Ford of intimidating the Senate because she had the courage to come forward?”
Schumer charged that when McConnell referred to an “outrageous smear” he was talking about Ford but couldn’t say as much.
The minority leader, arguing McConnell sets the timeline for hearings and votes, accused the Kentucky senator of causing the delay.
“Ultimately,” he said, “Dr. Ford came forward and won America’s hearts” while the Republicans “rush to put Judge Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.”
However, along with inconsistencies in Ford’s testimony, the FBI confirmed that three witnesses she named as having been present at the home where the alleged attack took place, including a lifelong friend, declare under penalty of perjury they don’t remember any such party.
The prosecutor who questioned Ford at the hearing last Thursday, Rachel Mitchell, published a lengthy report this week detailing many holes in Ford’s testimony.
Mitchell has concluded the case is “even weaker” than a standard he said-she said, contending no “reasonable prosecutor” would bring the case based on the evidence presented.
Republican senators have pointed out Ford refuses to give the committee the notes from the therapy session where she supposedly first mentioned the assault.
And said said she can’t remember if she showed the notes to the Washington Post.
Mitchell found it significant that Ford claims to not remember how she got home from the party after the alleged assault occurred.
The detail is crucial, Mitchell argues, because she claimed it was near a country club that was about a 20-minute drive from her home.
That means it’s highly likely that someone picked her up and drove her home after the incident. That driver, presumably, would have noticed Ford being being in a state of distress if she had just been sexually assaulted.