Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to a lifetime seat on the U.S. Supreme Court hung in the balance on Friday after a jarring and raucous hearing into sexual misconduct allegations against him.
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 remarkable testimony from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were high school students.
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 toward the justices soon.
Confirmation of Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, would cement conservative control of the nation’s highest court.
The committee could vote in several ways, recommending either that the full Senate approve the nomination, that the Senate reject it, or making no recommendation at all.
After a procedural vote that could come over the weekend, the full 100-member Senate was expected to 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.”
Attention to the hearings has 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, which is possible, 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 deliver a final, positive verdict on Kavanaugh - possibly as soon as Tuesday.
Ford’s allegations have thrown the outcome in doubt, however, in the 51-49 Republican-controlled Senate.
Ford, her voice sometimes cracking with emotion, appeared in public for the first time at the hearing to detail her allegation 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 alleged 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 next steps. Four senators who have not taken firm positions on Kavanaugh met separately after the hearing.
They were 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; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney