Holding their Brett
Suddenly, President Donald Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court isn't looking unstoppable. The push by the White House and the Senate Republican leadership to keep it on a fast track, with a Judiciary Committee vote on Thursday, faces strengthening headwinds.
The previously anonymous woman who wrote to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in July, accusing Kavanaugh of sexually attacking her at a party in the early 1980s while both were Maryland high school students, came forward by name in an interview with The Washington Post Sunday.
Christine Blasey Ford, 51, now a research psychologist in California, said a drunken teenage Kavanaugh pinned her, tried to remove her clothing and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. “I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” said Ford. Ford said she got away, locked herself in a bathroom and then fled the house, telling no one about the incident until speaking with a couples-counseling therapist in 2012 .
Ford also spoke with the Post in July, but wouldn't go on the record, saying she feared it would upend her life. But as word of her allegations began to leak out, she decided to shed her anonymity. “Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation.”
The White House said it stood by Kavanaugh's previous denial of any such incident. A statement from the committee chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), questioned the timing of "uncorroborated allegations from more than 35 years ago" and the timing of Ford's story becoming public.
But at least one Republican on the panel broke ranks. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said, “I’ve made it clear that I’m not comfortable moving ahead with the vote on Thursday if we have not heard her side of the story or explored this further.” Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, a red-state Democrat who has been undecided on Kavanaugh, called for hitting "the pause button" on a vote "until we can fully investigate these serious and disturbing allegations."
Republicans have an 11-10 majority on the committee and a 51-49 majority in the full Senate. If they lose two or more Republicans and don't pick up any Democratic support, Kavanaugh won't be confirmed.
The things guys do?
A lawyer close to the White House told Politico that not only will the nomination not be withdrawn, “If anything, it’s the opposite. If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.”
It's happened before. In 1991, allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas by former co-worker Anita Hill were aired in public hearings by the Judiciary Committee. Thomas ultimately was confirmed and remains on the court today. Women angered at Hill's humiliation turned the following year into the "Year of the Woman" at the ballot box. One of those elected was Feinstein.
What happens now with he-said, she-said in the #metoo era?
Feinstein said the FBI — which had passed the July letter from Ford to the White House for its background-check file — needs to conduct an investigation. "This should happen before the Senate moves forward on this nominee," she said. Republicans said they wanted to hear Ford's story before the scheduled committee vote, but didn't plan to postpone it.
Crucial to Kavanaugh's chances in a full Senate vote will be the reaction of two Republican women, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who were undecided before Ford's allegations emerged.
Murkowski told CNN that the committee “might have to consider” delaying the vote.
Trump bares midterm jitters
For much of the summer, Trump boasted of a coming "red wave." Now he's coming down with a raging case of the midterm blues. The Associated Press reports a top GOP pollster recently warned the White House that big Democratic gains are looking likelier because of Trump's unpopularity.
Who to blame? Not himself. Trump tweeted Saturday he has someone to else blame: special counsel Robert Mueller. "While my (our) poll numbers are good, with the Economy being the best ever, if it weren’t for the Rigged Russian Witch Hunt, they would be 25 points higher," Trump said. In reality, his poll numbers aren't good and voters find fault with him on many fronts, including honesty, leadership skills, sharing voters' values, levelheadedness and fitness to serve.
Another Trump tweet warned Sunday: "Best economic numbers in decades. If the Democrats take control, kiss your newfound wealth goodbye!"
Janison: Reversal of Mana-fortune
The White House keeps saying Paul Manafort's guilty plea and cooperation agreement with Mueller is nothing for them to worry about. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani tweeted in distress after he didn't see more heads nodding in agreement on the Sunday shows. "How biased they are!"
That's wishful spinning, according to lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a frequent Trump defender, about a "very bad day for the Trump administration.” On NBC"s "Meet the Press," Dershowitz said: "The deal, as I understand it, says that Manafort will cooperate about anything that the special counsel asks him about. There are no limits."
As Newsday's Dan Janison writes, it's anyone's guess outside Mueller's office and Manafort's legal team what the former Trump campaign chairman will have to tell about Russia investigation subjects, including the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting contacts, WikiLeaks, the stolen Democratic emails and more.
The Long view on Puerto Rico
FEMA chief Brock Long went on the Sunday shows to talk about the response to Hurricane Florence and was faced with the inevitable questions about Hurricane Maria. Pressed about Trump's angry attacks on an authoritative study estimating that Maria directly or indirectly caused 2,975 deaths in Puerto Rico, Long said he'd prefer to change the subject.
“I don’t know why the studies were done," Long said when asked about Trump's claims that it was ginned up by Democrats "to make me look as bad as possible." The FEMA chief didn't flatly say the George Washington University estimate was wrong, but said findings from multiple academic studies were "all over the place." (Harvard's was 4,645.)
Long also cited "all kinds of studies on this that we take a look at. Spousal abuse goes through the roof. You can't blame spousal abuse, you know, after a disaster on anybody." The indirect victims described were typically people with serious medical conditions who could not get life-sustaining treatment amid the power outages and a breakdown in health care.
What else is happening:
- It's not just Republicans facing dogfights to save Senate incumbents once thought safe, like Ted Cruz of Texas. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), whose corruption trial last year ended in a hung jury, has only a narrow lead against a well-funded GOP challenge in the deep-blue Garden State, Politico writes.
- Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton, said Manafort's plea deal means "we're much closer to getting the truth than we were before" and "this is really good for the country."
- Trump is reported to be going ahead with plans for new tariffs on about $200 billion of imports from China.
- Defense Secretary James Mattis' influence over Trump is on the wane as the president increasingly resents the depiction of his Pentagon chief as an "adult in the room," The New York Times reports. That worries those who see Mattis as a steadying hand for a mercurial commander in chief.
- Most mobile phone users will be getting a "presidential alert" Thursday in a test of a FEMA system to warn the public in cases of national emergencies. The message, with an audible alarm, is due to appear at 2:18 p.m. EDT. It's not Trump's idea; the system has been in the works since 2012.
- JPMorgan Chase & Co CEO Jamie Dimon expressed more regrets Sunday over comments that he was “smarter” than Trump and could beat him in an election. On ABC’s “This Week," Dimon said he was speaking “more out of frustration and my own machismo.”