WASHINGTON ― Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the professor who has accused him of sexual assault when they were teens, will have the opportunity to publicly testify next week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced Monday.
“Anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has done deserves to be heard,” Grassley said in a statement, promising to give the psychology professor’s allegations a “full airing” in a hearing scheduled next Monday.
The extraordinary move effectively postponed Thursday’s planned committee vote on the nomination, as Democrats had been demanding since Ford first spoke out publicly over the weekend. Moreover, Grassley’s statement appeared to be a result of tremendous pressure from other members of the GOP Senate conference, who were increasingly wary about the prospect of an all-male Republican committee majority denying Ford an opportunity to speak just weeks before the midterm elections.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a frequent critic of President Donald Trump, told reporters on Monday that he informed leadership he could not support the judge’s bid to the high court without first giving Ford a chance to be heard. He said “overwhelming” resistance among GOP members of the committee contributed to the scheduling of a public hearing.
The White House seemed to endorse the decision, with spokesman Raj Shah releasing a complementary statement Monday evening.
“Judge Kavanaugh looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation,” Shah said. “He stands ready to testify tomorrow if the Senate is ready to hear him.”
Ford identified herself on Sunday as the author of a confidential letter sent in late July to two members of Congress in which she accuses Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school in the 1980s. Her lawyer said Monday she would be willing to testify about the alleged incident.
“There are an awful lot of questions, inconsistencies, gaps, and that’s why, to be fair to both, we need to know what happened,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters Monday on Capitol Hill, several hours before Grassley’s announcement.
Collins, a key uncommitted senator on Kavanaugh’s nomination, said she doesn’t know enough yet to say whether she believes Ford’s allegations but that having the opportunity to question her will help her make a determination.
“Obviously if Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying,” Collins added, noting the judge had “emphatically” denied the accusation in a phone call with the senator on Friday.
GOP leaders initially appeared reluctant about delaying the vote on the Kavanaugh nomination, however. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, threw cold water over the prospect of a public hearing earlier Monday during an interview with CNN’s Manu Raju:
Senators and Judiciary Committee staff also squabbled over how best to proceed on the nomination throughout the day prior to the scheduling of Monday’s hearing. Grassley issued a statement earlier in the day that said he was committed to hearing from Ford in an “an appropriate, precedented and respectful manner.” The statement did not, however, address the possibility of inviting either Kavanaugh or Ford to testify in a public setting.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) seemed to endorse Grassley’s approach on the Senate floor earlier Monday, but he, too, did not raise the prospect of public testimony.
Democrats welcomed the news of a public hearing but insisted that the FBI ought to be able to investigate the allegation first.
“I do think there needs to be some investigation first, and I’m not sure this allows for that,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, told reporters on Monday evening about Grassley’s announcement.
A Department of Justice spokesperson, however, said in a statement that the allegation “does not involve any potential federal crime,” suggesting the FBI will not conduct any further investigation of Kavanaugh’s record.
Next week’s hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. EDT Monday, and both Kavanaugh and Ford are expected to answer questions. Senators will be looking closely at how both address the alleged incident.
“This is the best route forward,” Flake said of the hearing. “Obviously, these are serious charges, and, if they are true, I think they are disqualifying.”
The Arizona Republican added that he wasn’t sure whether senators will be able to determine the veracity of the allegation in such a setting.
“I don’t know how you can ever be sure, but it’s the best process we have. It’s the process ― it’s the only process,” he said.