Senate Judiciary Committee Set To Vote On Brett Kavanaugh Nomination

The vote comes a day after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified that the Supreme Court nominee assaulted her.

By Richard Cowan and David Morgan

WASHINGTON, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to a lifetime seat on the U.S. Supreme Court hung in the balance on Friday after a jarring and emotional hearing into sexual misconduct allegations against him that gripped the country and reflected the nation’s larger political divide.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, with 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, is set to meet at 9:30 a.m. (1330 GMT), giving its members little time to review Thursday’s extraordinary testimony from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were high school students. Kavanaugh denied the accusations.

Democrats have urged a delay to allow for an FBI investigation, a move backed late Thursday by the American Bar Association, which had earlier endorsed his nomination.

“Why are they shutting it down? I believe it’s because they are trying to hide something,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat on the committee, told NBC’s “Today” program on Friday.

Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, could be the deciding vote on several contentious cases if he is confirmed, with disputes involving abortion, immigration, gay rights, voting rights and transgender troops possibly heading to the court soon.

Confirmation of Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, would cement conservative control of the nation’s highest court.

The judiciary committee could vote in several ways: recommending the full Senate approve the nomination, rejecting the nomination, or making no recommendation.

After a procedural vote that could come over the weekend, the full 100-member Senate could take action next week.

During testimony that one senator described as “riveting,” Ford said she was “100 percent certain” that Kavanaugh assaulted her in 1982. Kavanaugh angrily said he was innocent and the victim of “grotesque and obvious character assassination.”

Questions were raised about Kavanaugh’s temperament at the hearing as well as his fiery political accusations and how that could impact his role on the court.

“I believe once he gets to the Supreme Court, he will call the balls and strikes fairly,” White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told “CBS This Morning.”

Attention to the hearings moved far beyond the world of Washington politics. Ford has emerged in the eyes of many American women as a compelling figure in the #MeToo movement usually associated less with the names of victims and more with a list of high-profile men accused of misconduct.

If all 10 Democrats on the committee vote against Kavanaugh, the spotlight would shine on Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who is retiring from the Senate after this year and has shown a willingness to defy Trump.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is hoping the full Senate will quickly approve Kavanaugh, possibly as soon as Tuesday. The Supreme Court will start its next session on Monday.

Trump called for senators to act quickly after the hearing, a message echoed by top White House aides early on Friday.

“It’s now time for the Senate to step up and have the vote,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told ABC’s “Good Morning America” program. Asked if Trump had enough votes to confirm Kavanaugh, she said: “I certainly hope so, and I certainly think so.”

Still, Ford’s allegations have thrown the outcome in doubt in the 51-49 Republican-controlled Senate.

Her voice often filled with emotion, Ford for the first time on Thursday detailed her accusations against Kavanaugh.

She told the committee she feared Kavanaugh would rape and accidentally kill her during the alleged assault. “Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes ... I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help,” Ford said.

For his part, Kavanaugh testified he was “100 percent certain” the incident did not occur.

He said: “I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process.”

After the hearing, Republicans met in private to discuss the next steps. Four senators who have not taken firm positions on Kavanaugh met separately after the hearing: Flake, Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Joe Manchin.

The four are seen as swing votes that could decide the outcome of the closely contested nomination.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Bernie Woodall; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Peter Cooney and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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