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Two GOP lawmakers criticized for tone-deaf comments about Kavanaugh accuser

The Republicans who would judge the credibility of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh's accusers are already judging their credibility. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

A pair of Republican male lawmakers sought to fend off criticism Thursday for tone-deaf comments related to the sexual assault allegation against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s embattled nominee for the Supreme Court.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) reportedly characterized the allegation of the three-decade-old assault made by a professor in California as a “hiccup” and predicted that Kavanaugh would soon win Senate confirmation.

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), meanwhile, opened an election debate Thursday in Rock Hill, S.C., by joking that he almost had to miss it because of drama involving the Supreme Court.

“Did you hear about this?” Norman said, according to local media reports. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out saying she was groped by Abraham Lincoln.”

Heller made his remarks during a conference call arranged by the Nevada Republican Party on Wednesday night in advance of Trump’s planned visit to the state Thursday, according to an account by the Nevada Independent.

“I’m really grateful for the White House, for the effort of President Trump and what he has done, and the excitement that we have,” Heller reportedly said. “We got a little hiccup here with the Kavanaugh nomination. We’ll get through this and we’ll get off to the races.”

Republicans push to confirm Kavanaugh amid fears it will come at a political cost

Heller’s comments were sharply criticized by Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), who is challenging Heller for his Senate seat in November.

“Unbelievable: Senator Heller just dismissed a credible sexual assault allegation as a ‘hiccup’ — and predicted Kavanaugh will still be confirmed soon,” Rosen wrote on Twitter.

Heller’s office issued a statement early Thursday afternoon in which he said he was referring to the actions of Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who have been accused by Republicans of not cooperating.

“No, I do not believe sexual assault allegations of any kind are a hiccup,” Heller said in the statement. “I was referring to how poorly the Democrats have handled this process and the fact that the Democrats have not worked with the Judiciary Committee Chairman in good faith.”

Heller added that he thinks it is important for Ford to have the opportunity to share her story with the committee either in public or privately.

Trump is scheduled to appear at a political rally Thursday night in Las Vegas being held, in part, to boost Heller’s Senate bid.

Norman’s line about Ginsberg, the 85-year-old associate justice, and Lincoln, who was assassinated in 1865, drew some scattered nervous laughter from the Kiwanis Club of Rock Hill, according to an account in the Post and Courier. But it was immediately condemned by South Carolina Democrats and many others on social media.

“Ralph Norman just proved he may be rich but he doesn’t have any class,” tweeted South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson. “Inappropriate doesn’t describe his remarks.”

Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, has alleged that while she and Kavanaugh were at a house party in the early 1980s, when the two were in high school, he drunkenly pinned her to a bed, groped her and put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams as he tried to take off her clothes.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) has asked Ford’s attorneys to respond by 10 a.m. Friday on whether she plans to appear before his panel at a hearing planned for Monday.

Ford, through her attorneys, has requested that the FBI conduct an investigation into the alleged incident before she speaks to the committee, and Senate Democrats have lined up behind her.

A Democratic lawmaker also was accused of insensitivity on Thursday in comments related to the Kavanaugh confirmation process.

On Twitter, Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.) minimized concerns expressed by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) about threats that she and her office have received as she weighs how to vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

“Boo hoo hoo,” Swalwell wrote. “You’re a senator who police will protect. A sexual assault victim can’t sleep in her home tonight because of threats. Where are you sleeping? She’s on her own while you and your @SenateGOP colleagues try to rush her through a hearing.”

Swalwell attached a news article recounting a radio interview in which Collins said her “office has received some pretty ugly voice mails, threats, terrible things said to my staff.”

Later Thursday, Swalwell apologized in another tweet.

“Sexual assault victims deserve respect. And senators shouldn’t be threatened by the public,” he wrote. “I said something stupid and minimized ugly behavior. That tweet is deleted and I’m sorry for that.”