Republicans are learning that “we’re going to plow right through it” is a dangerous way to approach a minefield.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) used that agricultural metaphor Friday to promise conservatives the Senate would confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh no matter what. Now, with a second woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct and more potentially on the way, Republicans can neither advance nor retreat without risking disaster.
Make no mistake, this is a crisis of the GOP’s own making. Republicans are in such a hurry to cement a conservative, antiabortion majority on the high court — and to do so before the midterm elections — that they refused to meaningfully alter their fast-track timetable for Kavanaugh’s confirmation even after a respected psychologist, Christine Blasey Ford, accused the nominee of sexually assaulting her when they were both in high school.
Now Deborah Ramirez, a college classmate of Kavanaugh’s, has accused him of exposing himself to her at an alcohol-fueled party when both were students at Yale University, a claim first reported Sunday in the New Yorker. And crusading lawyer Michael Avenatti said on Twitter that he has a client with information about misconduct by Kavanaugh in high school.
Kavanaugh vehemently denies any and all allegations. At this point, however, it is obvious that an actual FBI investigation is required — as opposed to the “he said, she said” hearing the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold with Kavanaugh and Ford on Thursday. Ford has asked for the FBI’s thorough scrutiny. Kavanaugh, for some reason, has not.
Republican senators are embarrassing themselves by calling the accusations “last-minute” or “11th-hour.” We are near the end of the process only because McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) set arbitrary deadlines to speed things up. The seat vacated by Anthony M. Kennedy’s retirement has been open only for eight weeks. There is no reason to be in such a rush to fill it — except political calculation.
I’m tempted to say that President Trump, who called the allegations against Kavanaugh “totally political,” is also embarrassing himself. But of course Trump is beyond shame.
Why are Republicans in such a hurry? There’s a chance Democrats could take control of the Senate in November, turning McConnell back into the minority leader and dramatically reducing the chance that Trump will be able to appoint another far-right conservative ideologue to the Supreme Court. The odds of the Senate switching hands have been seen as pretty long, however — though the Kavanaugh fiasco seems to be improving them.
GOP senators are primarily motivated by fear. The party’s activist base believes Kavanaugh will provide a decisive fifth vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, end affirmative action and weaken protections for same-sex married couples in the name of “religious freedom.” Republicans control the presidency and both chambers of Congress. If GOP officials can’t deliver now, why should conservatives bother voting for them?
Plowing ahead, however, now looks much riskier than turning back.
The main reason is that Republican senators don’t know what they don’t know. Two on-the-record accusers have emerged in the past week. Are there facts and evidence that could help establish Kavanaugh’s innocence or guilt? Will more accusers follow? Were the Supreme Court nominee’s high school and college years one long reenactment of “Animal House”? Did he, at the very least, treat women in ways that he should regret, and for which he should now apologize?
Beyond those issues of substance are questions of appearance. It cannot be an exaggeration to say that millions of American women have had to fight off the unwanted advances of obnoxious, boozed-up frat boys. Are Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, all of whom are male, going to tell women that they were to blame in those encounters? That the frat boys shouldn’t be held responsible at all, because they were only 17 or 18 at the time and grew up to hold high-status jobs?
Lots of luck with that message in the first national election of the #MeToo era.
One thing we should have learned by now is that women do not lightly subject themselves to the exposure, scrutiny and vicious attacks that inevitably come from making public accusations of sexual misconduct against powerful men. Another thing we should have learned is that some men go through life wearing a carapace of entitlement that can render them insensate to women’s vulnerability and distress.
Kavanaugh’s accusers want to be heard and taken seriously. Kavanaugh wants to clear his name. None of this can ever happen without a proper investigation.