Prior to Avenatti’s revelation on Wednesday morning, Republicans had already decided on a strategy of attempting to force Kavanaugh’s nomination—which had already been fast-tracked—through at top speed, in order to avoid any further weakening. After Thursday’s hearing, the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Friday, and the full Senate could begin to vote as soon as this weekend.
The Republican rush to confirm Kavanaugh backfired.
But the growing scope and number of claims could make it harder for the Senate to push forward and for the White House to continue to resist calls for the FBI to conduct an investigation into the allegations. As I have written, that was the procedure when sexual-harassment claims emerged against Clarence Thomas during his 1991 confirmation hearings. Avenatti and a lawyer for Deborah Ramirez, who alleges that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when they were students at Yale University, have both said that their clients are willing to testify.
The White House’s aggressive strategy is premised on the idea that delay will only allow more allegations against Kavanaugh—including potentially spurious ones—and give Republican senators a chance to lose their nerve. But the vote in the Senate will be very close, and it’s possible that driving forward could also alienate GOP fence-sitters.
“We are now in a place where it’s not about whether or not Judge Kavanaugh is qualified,” Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of those swing voters, told The New York Times on Monday. “It is about whether or not a woman who has been a victim at some point in her life is to be believed.”
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, another pivotal vote, said on Wednesday that she took the new allegations “very seriously” and was unsure whether the Senate should vote on the existing timetable.
And Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a frequent critic of the president whose vote is also in play, gave an anguished but ambivalent speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday in which he said he’s undecided.
“I will have to listen to the testimony before I make up my mind about the testimony,” he said. “What I do know is, I do not believe Dr. Ford is part of some vast conspiracy from start to finish to smear Judge Kavanaugh as has been alleged by some on the right, and I do know that I do not believe that Judge Kavanaugh is some kind of serial sexual predator as some have alleged on the left.”
Kavanaugh is not the first Supreme Court nominee to be accused of sexual misconduct, nor the first to face trouble with his confirmation. But in the past, it has been easier to guess what might happen. Some troubled nominees, like Thomas, end up with enough votes to pass. Others, like Harriet Miers, decide to withdraw rather than be defeated. In a rare move, Robert Bork opted for a confirmation vote he knew he would lose.
Kavanaugh’s nomination, by contrast, could go in any direction. Thursday’s hearing promises a climax that could provide some clarity—if some other new piece of information doesn’t do so first.