Woman’s accusation roils fight over Kavanaugh nomination

In this Sept. 6, 2018 photo, Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh waits to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee for the third day of his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Official Washington is scrambling Monday to assess and manage Kavanaugh’s prospects after his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, revealed her identity to The Washington Post and described an encounter she believes was attempted rape. Kavanaugh reported to the White House amid the upheaval, but there was no immediate word on why or whether he had been summoned. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) –The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A woman’s accusation that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school buckles what had been a smooth path to a seat on the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh denies the allegation, but his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, came back with an offer to testify publicly to Congress. Kavanaugh did the same. Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans first resisted, then agreed to, a public hearing featuring both of them, under oath, in the crosswinds of the #MeToo movement and the Nov. 6 elections.

Then there is the man in the Oval Office himself the subject of sexual misconduct accusations by more than a dozen women — all liars, he has said.

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Some things to know about the forces that have swamped the Kavanaugh nomination:

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THE STATE OF THINGS

The world will soon hear firsthand Ford’s allegation of the assault and Kavanaugh’s denial if both appear at a hearing called by Senate Republicans.

The GOP’s announcement of a Sept. 24 hearing follows a daylong scramble in Washington to assess Kavanaugh’s prospects after Ford revealed her identity to The Washington Post.

Ford described an encounter she believes was attempted rape. Kavanaugh came to the White House amid the upheaval, but there was no immediate word on why or whether he had been summoned.

Ford sent her lawyer out to be clear on some key points. “She believes that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped,” Debra S. Katz told NBC’s “Today” show.

Through the White House, Kavanaugh “categorically and unequivocally” denied the allegation and declared that he, too, is willing to testify under oath.

Ford said she was reluctant to come forward until reporters began contacting her. Kavanaugh, she told the Post, pinned her to a bed at a Maryland party in the early 1980s and tried to remove her clothing and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. She said she was around 15 at the time. He would have been around 17, she said.

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Kavanaugh, now 53, attended a private school for boys in Maryland, while Ford, now 51, attended a nearby school.

The decision to call a public hearing was a major backtrack. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, at first said he would seek private interviews with both Kavanaugh and Ford, an idea that was endorsed by top Republican leaders.

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SENATE MATH

Which way Kavanaugh’s nomination goes — to the high court or down in defeat — is all about the math of votes in the 100-member Senate. The party split goes like this: 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and 2 independents, both of whom caucus with the Democrats. So two Republican votes against Kavanaugh’s confirmation would derail it. Vice President Mike Pence could break a 50-50 tie.

More than two Republican senators have not committed to voting yes. Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a member of the Judiciary Committee, says he is not comfortable holding a vote until Ford’s allegations are heard. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who also is retiring, is not on the panel but said the vote should be postponed until the committee has heard from Ford.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, refused to say how she’d vote but tweeted earlier Monday that both Ford and Kavanaugh to testify to the Judiciary Committee under oath.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, says she has questions about the allegation.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

Trump stayed publicly silent on Kavanaugh over the weekend but told reporters Monday afternoon that “a little delay” may be needed on the upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee vote.

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However, Trump predicted that the judge’s nomination will “work out very well.”

He insisted the nomination was “very much on track.” The president praised Kavanaugh as one of the finest people he’s known, and he called a question about whether Kavanaugh should withdraw “ridiculous.”

It was a markedly restrained response from the bombastic president. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway appeared to set the tone across multiple morning shows on Monday when she pushed for Ford to be allowed to testify before lawmakers.

“She should not be insulted. She should not be ignored. She should testify under oath, and she should do it on Capitol Hill,” Conway said. Kavanaugh should be afforded the same opportunity, she added.

Either way, Trump’s own history could be drawn into the discussion. More than a dozen women have accused him of sexual misconduct, which he denies. Then there’s the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape that repelled many Republicans when it became public during the 2016 election. On it, Trump can be heard boasting of grabbing women by their genitals and kissing them without permission.

Trump apologized but also defended himself, calling his comments “locker-room talk.”

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REPUBLICANS

Republicans at first seemed determined to avoid a public airing of the allegations against Kavanaugh and on Monday began a vociferous defense of the judge.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused Democrats of keeping the allegation secret until the “eleventh hour” and said Kavanaugh has been thoroughly vetted.

Another senior Republican on the Judiciary panel, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, said Kavanaugh told him in a phone call that he wasn’t at the party where Ford alleges the assault took place. Hatch told CNN: “Somebody’s mixed up.”

Conspicuously absent from the Republican remarks were any personal attacks against Ford. The restraint may have been aimed at avoiding a fight with Collins and Murkowski, the two GOP senators most likely to derail the nomination.

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THE ELECTION

Trump won 41 percent of votes cast by women nationally in 2016 — despite the “Access Hollywood” tape, his habit of criticizing women’s looks and the fact that his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, is a woman.

But two years later, the president and his party are facing a headwind of opposition from women in the midterm election that the Kavanaugh allegation could amplify.

A record number of women, most of them Democrats, will be on the nation’s ballots in the Nov. 6 congressional elections. In the House, Democrats need to flip 23 Republican-held seats to win the majority. In the Senate, the Democrats would have to gain two seats.

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AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.

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Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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This story has been corrected to show that Trump won 41 percent, not 42 percent, of the female vote.

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