WASHINGTON — Republicans barreled ahead Thursday with plans for Senate votes on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after wavering lawmakers signaled their support following their review of an FBI report into allegations of sexual misconduct.
GOP leaders said the report found no witnesses or evidence to corroborate the sexual misconduct allegations from decades ago.
But Democrats complained that the White House limited the scope of the FBI probe and called the resulting report a “whitewash.”
Witnesses identified by the accusers were not contacted by agents before the rushed background check into Kavanaugh’s behavior from high school and college was completed, Democrats said.
The push by Republican leaders to begin voting Friday on the politically charged nomination prompted a protest outside the federal courthouse in Washington where women demonstrators waved placards that read “Courage is Contagious,” “#believesurvivors” and “Kavanope.”
A huge throng of protesters marched from the courthouse to the Supreme Court where survivors of sexual assault spoke to the large crowd that gathered across from the Capitol.
Although the Kavanaugh nomination was politically divisive from the outset, confirmation was seemingly assured until three women came forward with accusations of sexual misconduct. Under pressure, Senate Republicans delayed action for a week so the FBI could review the allegations.
President Donald Trump initially said the first Kavanaugh accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, was credible in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The president’s demeanor shifted Wednesday when he mocked Ford for failing to remember specifics about the assault in 1982.
The White House quickly seized on the FBI report to support a vote on the nomination that would add another conservative judge to the high court and shift the balance of ideology on the bench to the right.
“The White House is fully confident the Senate will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court,” said spokesman Raj Shah.
Republicans confident of outcome
Republican leaders were similarly confident of confirmation after they said the report found no corroborating evidence into charges by Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her during a house party when the two were in high school, and a claim by Yale University classmate Deborah Ramirez that he had exposed himself to her at a dorm party.
The report appeared to sway key undecided senators.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who sought the week’s delay and FBI review, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, spoke positively about the Kavanaugh nomination after the senators were briefed on the report and allowed to read the 46-page document in a secured room.
Other undecideds, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, remained on the fence.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, one of two undecided Democrats, said Thursday she would vote against the nomination.
Nevada’s two senators were split along party lines. The FBI report did little to sway Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., or Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., from their previous position.
“I remain opposed to Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination,” Cortez Masto said.
She said the FBI report “only raises more questions about Judge Kavanaugh’s character and demonstrates that he is not the right person for the highest court in America.”
Heller, following his review of the FBI report, said he remains in support of the Kavanaugh nomination.
“I read the independent FBI reports on its seventh investigation into Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and they contained no new corroborating evidence to support the allegations that surfaced,” Heller said.
Heller, who is in a tough re-election battle against Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., was being pressured by women’s groups to vote against Kavanaugh, whose nomination is strongly supported by Republican grassroots groups.
The FBI submitted its report to the Senate a week after a televised Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at which Kavanaugh and Ford transfixed the nation with their testimony.
Republicans accused Democrats on the Judiciary Committee of orchestrating a “smear campaign” to tarnish Kavanaugh and halt the confirmation that was all but assured in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority.
Kavanaugh echoed that sentiment in last week’s hearing. Kavanaugh denied all claims of sexual assault and admonished Democrats on the panel in a blistering, and tearful, response.
Question of temperament
The sometimes belligerent tone used by Kavanaugh when addressing the Senate panel raised questions from some about his temperament.
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, appointed by President Gerald Ford, told the Palm Beach Post in Florida that he had supported Kavanaugh but that his “performance” before the committee “changed my mind.”
But concerns about Kavanaugh’s temperament were dismissed outright by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
“He didn’t handle being destroyed well,” Graham said, sarcastically. “Enough. Enough already. Let’s vote.”
In an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, Kavanaugh acknowledged that he “might have been too emotional” in his testimony. He said he was frustrated at being wrongly accused and “I said a few things I should not have said.”
The Senate will have a procedural vote Friday to limit debate. If a majority of senators agree to the motion, a final vote on confirmation will follow sometime later.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had delayed the vote for a week in an agreement with wavering Republican senators who wanted an expanded FBI background check into the allegations leveled by Ford and Ramirez.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said early Thursday that the FBI report concluded that there was no one or no evidence to support the allegations made against Kavanaugh.
But Democrats said the White House had limited the scope of the background check. They said witnesses put forward by Ford and Ramirez were never contacted. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called the report “a whitewash” to ram the nomination through.
The FBI interviewed nine of 10 of the witnesses who were identified as persons being present at the house party in suburban Maryland, or at the Yale dorm party, including Kavanaugh friend Mark Judge, who has denied claims by Ford that he was with Kavanaugh when the alleged assault took place.