WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans mounted a combative, coordinated drive Monday to salvage Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination as they fought to keep a second woman's allegation of long-ago sexual misconduct from derailing his confirmation. President Donald Trump leapt to his defense, the top Senate Republican accused Democrats of a "smear campaign" and an emotional Kavanaugh pledged to fight for his nomination and proclaimed, "I've never sexually assaulted anyone."
That declaration, remarkable for a nominee to the nation's highest court, came as Republicans embraced their newly aggressive stance and Kavanaugh's prospects dangled precariously. The similar tones and wording they used in defending him suggested a concerted effort to undermine the women's claims and portray an image of unity among GOP senators while pressing toward a confirmation vote.
In the run-up to an appearance by Kavanaugh and his main accuser at a dramatic Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Trump called the accusations "totally political" and among "the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything." On Twitter Monday night, Trump accused Democrats of working hard to destroy a wonderful man ... with an array of False Accusations the likes of which have never been seen before!
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., angrily accused Democrats of slinging "all the mud they could manufacture" and promised a full Senate vote soon, but specified no date.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., retorted that if McConnell believed the allegations were a smear, "Why don't you call for an FBI investigation?" Schumer accused Republicans of "a rush job to avoid the truth."
Trump has made clear he won't order an FBI probe. McConnell said Thursday's Judiciary Committee hearing would proceed, and No. 2 Senate GOP leader, John Cornyn of Texas, said the panel could vote on sending Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate as early as Friday.
There were no immediate signs that the emergence of a second accuser had fatally wounded Kavanaugh's candidacy. Hoping to head that off, he and his GOP supporters went on offense, including the release of a letter he sent the Judiciary panel accusing his opponents of launching "smears, pure and simple."
Later, Kavanaugh and his wife sat for an interview on the conservative-friendly Fox News Channel, an extraordinary step for a Supreme Court nominee. Kavanaugh, 53, is currently a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kavanaugh said he wasn't questioning "that perhaps Dr. Ford at some point in her life was sexually assaulted by someone at some place, but what I know is I've never sexually assaulted anyone."
Kavanaugh said while there were high school parties with beer and he wasn't perfect, "I'm a good person. I've led a good life." He said that he'd never done anything like the episodes his accusers have described and that he didn't have sexual intercourse until "many years" after high school.
"I'm not going to let false accusations drive me out of this process. I have faith in God, and I have faith in the fairness of the American people," he said.
On Sunday, The New Yorker magazine reported that Deborah Ramirez described a 1980s, alcohol-heavy Yale dormitory party at which she said Kavanaugh exposed himself, placed his penis in her face and caused her to touch it without her consent. Ford has said Kavanaugh tried removing her clothes and covered her mouth to prevent screams after he pinned her on a bed during a high school party.
Despite the forceful rhetoric by Kavanaugh and his GOP supporters, it remained unclear how three moderate Republican senators — Maine's Susan Collins, Arizona's Jeff Flake and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski — would react to the latest accusation. With the GOP's Senate control hanging on a razor-thin 51-49 margin, defections by any two Republican senators would seal his fate if all Democrats vote "no."
Collins said Monday she remained undecided about Kavanaugh.
Proceeding with Kavanaugh seems to give Republicans their best shot at filling the Supreme Court vacancy — and giving the court an increasingly conservative tilt — before November's elections, when GOP Senate control is in play.
Even if Republicans lose their Senate majority, they could still have time to confirm a nominee in a post-election lame duck session, but the GOP hasn't indicated that is under consideration. Delaying Kavanaugh's confirmation could allow time for doubts about him to take root or any fresh accusations to emerge.