First vote on embattled U.S. court nominee after fraught hearing
WASHINGTON, DC, USA (UPDATED) – Brett Kavanaugh's US Supreme Court nomination was expected to pass a first hurdle in the Senate Friday, a day after a dramatic hearing that saw the conservative judge fight off assault allegations recounted in harrowing detail by his accuser.
The Senate Judiciary Committee began meeting early Friday and was expected to narrowly vote in favor of Donald Trump's pick after key Republican Jeff Flake said he would back the judge, whose nomination would swing the high court solidly to the right.
Friday's vote – set for 1:30 pm (1730 GMT) – was taking place under an intense spotlight, following a historic day of testimony that put the toxic partisan feuding in Washington on full display.
Kavanaugh's nomination will then go to the full Senate, where Republicans hold a slim 51-49 edge.
Trump whole-heartedly reaffirmed support for Kavanaugh to join the nation's top bench after watching him furiously refute the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, 51, who delivered to a packed hearing room her stark account of what she said was an attempted rape by Kavanaugh 36 years ago.
The country's leading legal organization, the American Bar Association which initially proclaimed the conservative Kavanaugh highly qualified for the job, came out following the hearing urging a postponement until an FBI investigation could be carried out.
The appointment "is simply too important to rush to a vote," the ABA said in a strongly worded letter to the committee's top senators.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted Trump's man would get a vote straight away in the Judiciary Committee – which has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats – and that the full Senate would vote "in the coming days."
Democrats on the Senate committee expressed outrage and some walked out Friday morning after majority Republicans unanimously backed moving forward to a vote without further investigation of the accusations against Kavanaugh.
"I strongly object. What a railroad job," said Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono, after the decision.
In addition to the conservative Senator Jeff Flake, an outspoken Trump critic, attention has focused on two moderate Republican women senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.
Two Republicans would need to defect, with all Democrats voting in opposition, in order to sink the nomination on the Senate floor.
Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had been a swing vote on a court now divided between four conservative and four liberal justices.
The allegations by Blasey Ford, a psychology professor in California, have threatened to derail Trump's bid to tilt the court to the right.
The 53-year-old Kavanaugh came out with defensive guns blazing on Thursday, insisting the assault never happened, accusing Democrats of destroying his reputation and condemning his confirmation battle as a "national disgrace."
"I categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation by Dr Ford," Kavanaugh said, his voice shaking with anger as he fought back tears.
"I've never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not in college, not ever."
In addition to Blasey Ford, two other women have come forward with allegations of assault against Kavanaugh, against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement.
Thursday's hearing included sharp exchanges between Republicans and Democrats mirroring the bitter atmosphere in Washington.
And as the nine-hour marathon wrapped up, Trump weighed in to stand by his man. "Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him," he tweeted, minutes after the hearing adjourned.
"His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting," Trump said. "Democrats' search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct and resist. The Senate must vote!"
'I am terrified'
During 4 hours of emotionally intense testimony, Blasey Ford said she was "100%" certain that Kavanaugh was the person who assaulted her at a high school party in suburban Maryland in 1982, and that it was "absolutely not" a case of mistaken identity.
She said a drunken Kavanaugh and a friend of his, Mark Judge, pushed her into a bedroom, that Kavanaugh pinned her down and muffled her cries as he tried to pull off her clothes.
She told the hearing, she feared she would be raped, or accidentally killed.
"I am here today not because I want to be," said the married mother-of-two. "I am terrified."
"I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me." – Rappler.com