WASHINGTON () — The high-stakes confrontation over whether Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser will testify on Capitol Hill stretched into Saturday as the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman gave Christine Blasey Ford more time to decide whether to tell her story to lawmakers and a riveted nation.
Vice President Mike Pence called the Supreme Court nominee “a man of integrity with impeccable credentials.” He expressed confidence that Republicans “will manage this confirmation properly with the utmost respect for all concerned” and said he expected Kavanaugh to join the high court soon.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, had set a Friday night deadline for the 51-year-old California psychology professor to agree to the committee’s latest offer setting terms for her appearance. Grassley said that if she missed that deadline, he would scrap the hearing and his committee would vote on sending Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate.
Ford’s lawyers asked for another day. In a tweet aimed at Kavanaugh shortly before midnight, Grassley said he was giving them additional time.
“She shld decide so we can move on. I want to hear her. I hope u understand. It’s not my normal approach to b indecisive,” Grassley wrote.
Grassley set a new deadline for 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
He shrugged off responsibility for the extension onto the Senate’s Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer. “I feel like I’m playing 2nd trombone in the judiciary orchestra and Schumer is the conductor,” Grassley tweeted.
Ford’s accusations and the standoff over the terms of her appearance have left the appeals court judge’s confirmation in jeopardy. And just seven weeks from an election in which Democrats are hoping to capture control of the House and maybe the Senate, her emergence also has drawn intensified attention to the #MeToo movement’s focus on sexual abuse.
Ford says an inebriated Kavanaugh pinned her on a bed, muffled her cries and tried removing her clothes when both were teenagers in the 1980s. Kavanaugh has denied doing this and said he wants to appear before the committee as soon as possible to clear his name.
In backing away from his deadline, Grassley underscored the sensitivity with which Senate Republicans have tried handling Ford. Moderate female voters will be pivotal in many races in the elections and the #MeToo movement has elevated the political potency of how women alleging abuse are treated.
In requesting another day to decide, Ford lawyer Debra Katz called Grassley’s original deadline “arbitrary” and said its “sole purpose is to bully Dr. Ford and deprive her of the ability to make a considered decision that has life-altering implications for her and her family.”
Earlier Friday, Grassley rejected concessions Ford wanted if she is tell her story publicly before the committee.
Grassley turned down Ford’s request that only senators, not attorneys, be allowed to ask questions. The committee’s 11 Republicans — all men — have been seeking an outside female attorney to interrogate Ford, mindful of the election-season impression that could be left by men trying to pick apart a woman’s assertion of a sexual attack.
He also rejected her proposal that she testify after Kavanaugh, a position lawyers consider advantageous because it gives them a chance to rebut accusations.
Grassley’s stance reflected a desire by President Donald Trump and GOP leaders to usher the 53-year-old Kavanaugh onto the high court by the Oct. 1 start of its new session and before the November elections, when Democrats are mounting a robust drive to grab congressional control.
Friday was the latest in a string of tumultuous days for Kavanaugh, whose ascension to the Supreme Court seemed a sure bet until Ford emerged last weekend and provided details of the alleged assault.
Earlier, Trump ended a week of constraint and sarcastically assailed Ford, tweeting that if the episode was “as bad as she says,” she or “her loving parents” surely would have reported it to law enforcement.
Trump’s searing reproach defied the Senate Republican strategy, and the advice of White House aides, of not disparaging Ford while firmly defending his nominee and the tight timetable for confirming him.
The president’s tweet brought blistering rejoinders from Democrats and a mix of silence and sighs of regret from his own party. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who hasn’t declared support for Kavanaugh, called the remark “appalling.”
The committee’s top Democrat expressed fury at Grassley’s negotiating position with Ford and maintained Democrats’ effort to build the battle into a larger election-year question about the treatment of women.
“Bullying a survivor of attempted rape in order to confirm a nominee — particularly at a time when she’s receiving death threats — is an extreme abuse of power,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said.
Grassley said he’d schedule a hearing for Wednesday, not Thursday, as Ford prefers.
Grassley rebuffed other Ford requests, including calling additional witnesses. Ford wants an appearance by Mark Judge, a Kavanaugh friend who Ford asserts was at the high school party and in the room where the incident occurred.
Grassley consented to other Ford demands, including that she be provided security and that Kavanaugh not be in the hearing room when she testifies.
Ford’s request for security comes after her lawyers said she has relocated her family due to death threats.
The GOP letter to Ford’s lawyers said Kavanaugh and his family have received death threats, too.
Kavanaugh had seemed to gain momentum among Republican senators this week, with growing numbers saying it was approaching time to vote and those who’d voiced concern about Ford’s charges stopping short of expressing opposition to Kavanaugh. But with the slender 51-49 GOP majority and the unpredictability of how Ford and Kavanaugh would come across to millions of American voters should she agree to testify, his approval remains in question.
Pence told a gathering of evangelical activists Saturday that he believes “Judge Brett Kavanaugh will soon be Justice Brett Kavanaugh.” Pence also criticized the conduct of some Democrats during the confirmation process as “a disgrace and a disservice.” The vice president did not mention Ford in his remarks.