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Opinion These quotes from Republicans give away their game on Kavanaugh

President Trump said he wants to let the Senate's vetting of Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh take its course, rather than let the FBI investigate. (Video: The Washington Post)
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The Republicans’ strategy to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed is to do the absolute minimum necessary to appear as if they are taking the sexual assault charges against him seriously — while doing all they can to limit the ability of the American people to make a fully informed judgment about those charges themselves.

The words and actions of Republicans themselves confirm the rationale behind this strategy: Any delay and further fact-finding might make it less likely that Kavanaugh gets confirmed and could threaten more political damage to the GOP’s chances in the midterms. And if confirmation is delayed past the election, and Democrats somehow do win the Senate, that throws the seat’s fate into some doubt.

On Tuesday night, Christine Blasey Ford’s lawyers sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee demanding an FBI investigation into her allegations against Kavanaugh before she testifies to the committee, as Republicans have invited her to do next Monday.

In the letter, Ford’s team notes that since she came forward, she has been the target of “vicious harassment” and “death threats,” and argues that an FBI probe is necessary because some GOP senators have already made up their minds that she is “mistaken” and “mixed up,” as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) so delicately put it.

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“A full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the Committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing,” Ford’s lawyers wrote, adding that no serious investigation can be conducted by Monday, which is when Republicans have scheduled the hearing at which she and Kavanaugh would testify.

Republican senators are flatly rejecting these demands. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, said that “we’ve offered Dr. Ford the opportunity to share her story with the committee,” and “the invitation for Monday still stands.” Bob Corker of Tennessee claimed: “Republicans extended a hand in good faith. If we don’t hear from both sides on Monday, let’s vote.” John Cornyn of Texas, speaking earlier yesterday, glibly remarked: “She’s not in really a position to make conditions in my view.”

But why is it that the hearing cannot be delayed past Monday? Fortunately, this morning Sen. Lindsey Graham gave the game away, perhaps without meaning to:

Graham does not say why a Judiciary Committee vote must take place “ASAP,” but his previous tweet does: An investigation might end up “delaying the process till after the midterms.” Graham blames Democrats for tacitly wanting to do this, but what Graham cannot explain here is why the fact that this could be delayed until after the midterms should place limits on the Senate’s efforts to determine what happened.

That’s because the real answer is obvious, and it’s untenable as a public position: Because if this is delayed until after the midterms, and Republicans lose the Senate, they’d have to confirm the justice in the lame-duck period. As Brian Beutler points out, President Trump would be badly weakened, and this would cast a further cloud of illegitimacy over the process of filling the seat — whether with Kavanaugh or someone else — and compounding the legitimacy problem, that justice could end up ruling on matters related to Trump’s legal travails.

As Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh faces a sexual misconduct allegation, columnist Ruth Marcus asks, who's responsible for the burden of proof? (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

The Wall Street Journal editorial board is helpfully explicit on the real calculus here as well, warning: “If Democrats take the Senate majority, they’ll then insist on no vote until the new Senate convenes in January.” Republicans would not listen to that, of course, but as this basically concedes, moving forward at that point would put them in a politically brutal position.

By the way, Democrats may well partly want to delay this until after the midterms. But even if true, the fact that Republicans are citing this is still revealing. Republicans, after all, could support a fuller investigation into what happened while also getting in the vote before the elections — there is still time for both. The only thing that would delay this until after the elections is if Kavanaugh’s nomination became untenable due to that fuller investigation, forcing Trump to nominate a replacement. Thus, that is what they really want to avoid — a fuller accounting that could scuttle the nomination.

Giving away the game

What’s more, when Corker claims Republicans have acted in “good faith” in scheduling a hearing and that this justifies sticking to a Monday vote, this, too, illuminates what’s really motivating Republicans. It’s a stretch to say Republicans showed good faith here. Remember, Grassley originally wanted to schedule only private calls between Ford and senators, and agreed to a public hearing for her only after that became politically untenable. Again, the desire was to do the absolute minimum to appear to be taking the charges seriously while doing everything possible to limit a full accounting in the eyes of the public. Corker is doing the same again.

This is also at the core of the current GOP stance. Republicans — Trump included — say it’s not the FBI’s role to investigate Ford’s claims. But as NBC News points out, as part of the background check process, the White House could ask the FBI to look into the veracity of her claims if it wanted to. What’s more, Democrats have proposed that, if an FBI investigation doesn’t happen, the Judiciary Committee could conduct a fuller investigation, hearing from more witnesses other than just Ford and Kavanaugh. But Republicans don’t want to.

To be clear, it’s a good thing that Republicans have invited Ford to testify. And if the FBI does not conduct an investigation, our preference should be that Ford goes forward with the testimony anyway (though that is her decision, obviously). But there is no obvious reason this can’t be accompanied by as robust an effort as possible to determine the truth.

One big lesson the #MeToo movement has taught us is that we need to move beyond treating allegations of sexual assault and harassment as mere he-said/she-said affairs that can never be resolved, because that subjects women who come forward to brutal public exposure in exchange for little in the way of a serious hearing, leaving them no recourse. Republicans seem to want to keep the proceedings constrained in a way that guarantees they are perceived as he-said/she-said.

But in this case, a robust fact-finding effort could actually end up benefiting Kavanaugh, the court and even the GOP. If such an effort were undertaken and did not conclusively settle the matter, you could easily see 50 or 51 Republicans — and perhaps a few Democrats — confirming Kavanaugh. And the fact that a serious investigation did take place would put his ascension on firmer ground.