Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), one of the loudest voices of the #MeToo movement on Capitol Hill, swiftly called for the resignation of lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct.
But as the congresswoman faces a tough reelection fight, she has reserved judgment of Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, her longtime friend, amid allegations of sexual assault.
“Last night, with Judge Kavanaugh, the American people saw the heart and humility of the man I have known for 20 years, who is a man of great character, integrity, and professionalism who reveres the Constitution and the rule of law. #VA10,” she wrote.
The day after The Washington Post published an interview with Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of pinning her down and groping her at a party in the 1980s, Comstock said Kavanaugh and Ford should testify under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee. A hearing is set for Thursday.
Another woman, Deborah Ramirez, a classmate of Kavanaugh at Yale University, told the New Yorker magazine that he exposed himself to her at a party when they were both first-year students.
Comstock has declined to say whether she believes Kavanaugh’s accusers or whether she thinks the FBI should investigate the claims.
“Barbara has talked with many victims and knows the difficulty in bringing forward claims which is why she has fought to reform sexual harassment laws and policies,” her campaign manager, Susan Falconer, said in a statement Tuesday, adding that due process is key to any change.
The lengthy statement explained how Comstock knows Kavanaugh, her work in Congress on combating sexual harassment with members of both parties, and how she has carefully considered each case and figured out the most judicious way to respond.
“Each case is unique,” Falconer said. She added that Comstock “supports any alleged victim having a fair process to be heard.”
“Barbara has focused on creating an environment of zero tolerance and providing victims with strong protections and procedures to address wrongdoing and have accountability,” she said.
The two-term congresswoman has known Kavanaugh since the 1990s. She met him through her late friend and colleague Barbara Olson and her husband, former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson.
In 1995, Comstock was a lead attorney on the House Government Reform Committee investigating whether White House Travel Office staff members were replaced with Clinton allies. At the time, Kavanaugh was a deputy to independent counsel Ken Starr. Their work led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
Documents released after Kavanaugh’s nomination show that Comstock once called Kavanaugh to ensure that “Travelgate” hearings would not interfere with the Starr investigation.
She has been outspoken in her support of a streamlined process for women working on Capitol Hill to report harassment and abuse.
Comstock helped craft House measures last year that require lawmakers and staff members to complete mandatory anti-harassment training and prohibit sexual relationships between lawmakers and their employees.
In November, she said she believed the women who accused Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, Fox News head Roger Ailes and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein “because they were substantiated and consistent with the stories of how sexual predators operate.”
Around the same time, she called on Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) to step down in light of what she considered credible accusations. Each has since resigned from Congress.
Jennifer T. Wexton, the Democratic state senator challenging Comstock, accused the congresswoman of perpetuating a double standard by reserving judgment about Kavanaugh.
“It’s indicative of how far we still haven’t come,” Wexton said in an interview. “Twenty-seven years after Anita Hill, and Barbara Comstock has an opportunity to be a leader on this issue. She is billing herself as some leader and champion for women. There’s an opportunity to be not only a leader for women but to stand up to her party.”
She added: “What is she doing when it’s her friend who is the subject of allegations?”
Wexton, a former prosecutor, has not spoken out against the lawmakers or candidates accused of sexual harassment or misconduct since she announced her bid for Congress in April 2017.
Asked for an explanation, Wexton spokesman Aaron Fritschner said that she wants the FBI to investigate the claims of Kavanaugh’s accusers. If elected, she would defer to the agency’s findings in this and similar cases, he said.
The race between Comstock and Wexton is one of the most competitive in the nation, and both parties consider it a must-win for control of the House.
After a debate between Comstock and Wexton on Friday, a group of liberal activists descended on Comstock, and one woman asked her, “Do you think the Senate is treating Dr. Ford appropriately?” The congresswoman hesitated.
“I’m not sure . . . ” Comstock said and turned away to reporters without finishing the thought.
Within an hour, Dump Comstock, an activist group trying to unseat her, tweeted a cellphone video of the exchange.
Some of Comstock’s Republican colleagues have weighed in on the controversy.
GOP Senate nominee Corey A. Stewart, in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, called Ford’s allegations “a bunch of crap.”