NEW YORK (AP) — With the fate of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee suddenly uncertain, emboldened Democrats clashed with cautious Republicans on Monday as both parties grappled with an increasingly messy nomination fight weeks before the pivotal midterm elections.
The political implications were still being sorted out. But with control of Congress at stake this fall, there were tremendous risks for both sides.
The GOP risked further alienating female voters — particularly in the nation’s suburbs — by embracing Trump’s hand-picked Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, after an allegation surfaced over the weekend of decades-old sexual misconduct. Democrats, who seized on the development as justification to delay the high-stakes nomination, could energize complacent Republican voters if they’re viewed as playing politics with the sensitive allegation.
Amid the chaos, a key question quietly emerged among some political operatives: Would Republicans force through the Kavanaugh nomination even if it jeopardizes their control of Congress? For some, the short-term political pain might be an acceptable tradeoff for a generation of conservative control on the nation’s high court.
The situation is fluid to say the least.
“At this very moment, the issue is moving so fast that accurate predictions are difficult to make,” said Steven Law, who leads the super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “I think it’s likely this will inflame partisan energy on both sides.”
Christine Blasey Ford, now a clinical psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, told The Washington Post that a drunken Kavanaugh groped her and tried to take off her clothes at a party when both were teenagers at high schools in suburban Maryland.
Ford’s attorney said Monday her client was willing to testify publicly about the allegations on Capitol Hill, where a key Kavanaugh confirmation vote was scheduled this week.
Kavanaugh, now 53, called the allegation “completely false” in a statement, adding that he “had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself” to the Post.
“I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity,” Kavanaugh said.
The developing situation threatens to exacerbate the GOP’s rocky Trump-era relationship with suburban women, who are poised to play an outsized role in the districts that will largely decide the House majority this fall. Election Day isn’t until Nov. 6, but early voting begins Friday in Minnesota and in roughly three weeks across several more states.
Vulnerable Republican House incumbents have largely avoided the issue, which flared Monday in northern Virginia’s suburbs, where GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock is fighting for her political survival.
In a written statement, Comstock said Kavanaugh and Ford “should both testify under oath before the Judiciary Committee.” The reaction came as her Democratic challenger, Jennifer Wexton, tweeted: “This is bigger than our politics and will impact whether victims can trust Congress.”
In suburban Denver, vulnerable Republican Rep. Mike Coffman was more cautious. A spokesman said the five-term congressman “believes the committee and full Senate should thoroughly evaluate the claims and Judge Kavanaugh should address them.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said his panel will hold a hearing next Monday with Kavanaugh and Ford. Republicans were eager to avoid images of Ford facing tough questioning from the all-male Republican membership of the Senate panel.