Had Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gone ahead with Thursday’s committee vote, it would almost certainly have failed. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican on the panel, said he could not vote for Kavanaugh before hearing more from Ford. Republicans hold just an 11–10 advantage on the committee, and all 10 Democrats signed a letter demanding that the vote be postponed.
McConnell could try to muscle Kavanaugh across the Senate floor even if he receives an unfavorable vote in the Judiciary Committee. The Senate confirmed Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991 even though the panel split 7–7 on his nomination, after Anita Hill testified that Thomas had repeatedly sexually harassed her when they worked together at two different federal jobs. But that vote, too, would be unlikely to succeed without a fuller airing of Ford’s accusations. In addition to Flake and Collins, Republican Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Roy Blunt of Missouri all said they want to hear more from Ford and Kavanaugh before voting. The GOP can lose no more than two of its senators if all Democrats vote against the nominee in a full-floor vote.
Ultimately, McConnell and Grassley decided to give in to demands for a public hearing, allowing Ford to tell her story directly and giving Kavanaugh an opportunity to respond. A short delay could satisfy the GOP senators’ demand for more time while still giving the party a chance to confirm Kavanaugh before the election.
“If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay,” Trump told reporters Monday in his first public comments on the allegation. “It shouldn’t certainly be very much.”
Yet the public airing—including the nationally televised spectacle of a second round of hearings—will put all 100 senators in the position of choosing whom to believe: Kavanaugh or Ford. Kavanaugh’s blanket denial—he reportedly told Senator Orrin Hatch that he wasn’t even at the party in question—could make it difficult for Republicans or Democrats to excuse the incident as a drunken but forgivable excess of youth outweighed by a lifetime of personal and professional integrity, as some of the judge’s defenders rushed to suggest. At the same time, by testifying publicly, Ford is subjecting herself to cross-examination by Senate Republicans, who will undoubtedly press her on how well she remembers the alleged assault and whether she’s absolutely sure it was Kavanaugh who did it.
Trump scoffed at the possibility that Kavanaugh, who was seen visiting the White House on Monday, would be forced to withdraw. “What a ridiculous question,” he said when a reporter asked if the nominee had offered to do so.
Democratic frustration over the Supreme Court finally boils over.
A withdrawal would be a huge and galvanizing victory for Democrats, who before Ford’s allegation had tried to disqualify Kavanaugh on the grounds that he could be a deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, dismantle the Affordable Care Act, protect Trump from consequences resulting from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and more. But it would not necessarily get them a more palatable nominee.