WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump attacked one of the women who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in harsh and stark language Tuesday, as senators escalated their partisan warfare over his confirmation ahead of a highly anticipated hearing.
After his speech at the United Nations, Trump took aim at Deborah Ramirez, a classmate of Kavanaugh's at Yale University and the second woman to accuse the nominee. She told the New Yorker magazine that he exposed himself to her at a party when they were both first-year students. Dismissing Ramirez's account because she was "totally inebriated and all messed up," Trump also accused Democrats of playing a "con game" in an attempt to derail his Supreme Court choice.
"The second accuser has nothing," Trump told reporters. "The second accuser thinks maybe it could have been him, maybe not. She admits she was drunk. She admits time lapses."
The president dismissed the notion that the allegation could be disqualifying, saying sarcastically: "Oh, gee, let's not make him a Supreme Court judge because of that."
Trump's charged rhetoric against his nominee's accusers came as Republicans quickly closed ranks around Kavanaugh, even as a handful of pivotal swing votes remained quiet on whether they would ultimately support his confirmation in the coming days.
The Supreme Court begins its new term Monday, and Republicans are under intense political pressure from conservatives to confirm Kavanaugh amid warnings that failure could cost the GOP in November's midterm elections.
Late Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent out a notice scheduling a 9:30 a.m. committee vote Friday in the case "that a majority of the members are prepared" to vote then. The full Senate could vote next Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was defiant, speaking confidently about Kavanaugh's prospects, assailing Democrats and casting the nominee as a victim of "the weaponization of unsubstantiated smears."
"We're going to be moving forward. I'm confident we're going to win," McConnell told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "He will be confirmed in the very near future."
And asked Tuesday whether he could envision any scenario in which the White House withdraws Kavanaugh's nomination, principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said on MSNBC: "Absolutely not."
Looking ahead to Thursday's hearing, Republicans hired a female lawyer from outside the committee to lead the questioning as the GOP faced the politically tough optics of the all-male Republican lineup questioning a Kavanaugh accuser.
"We have hired a female assistant to go on staff and to ask these questions in a respectful and professional way," said McConnell.
Grassley confirmed in a statement late Tuesday that the committee had hired Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to do the questioning, shortly after The Post first reported the decision. A registered Republican, Mitchell is the sex crimes bureau chief for the Maricopa County attorney's office in Phoenix, where she has worked for 26 years.
"I'm very appreciative that Rachel Mitchell has stepped forward to serve in this important and serious role," Grassley said. "Ms. Mitchell has been recognized in the legal community for her experience and objectivity."
Kavanaugh has vehemently denied the allegation from Ramirez, as well as the accusation from Christine Blasey Ford, who told The Washington Post that he sexually assaulted her when they were high school students in Maryland. Top Judiciary Committee staffers held a call with Kavanaugh earlier Tuesday to interview him about the allegation outlined in the New Yorker. As he has done publicly, Kavanaugh again denied the allegation in the staff interview, a committee spokesman said.
Unlike a previous staff interview, Democratic aides listened in on the Tuesday afternoon call, another person briefed on the conversation said. But the Democrats - who have called for the FBI to reopen its background check investigation of Kavanaugh - made their objections to the process clear and subsequently refused to ask the judge questions, the person said.
One of the biggest points of contention remained the outside counsel who would question Ford and Kavanaugh. Republicans sought to avoid a repeat of 1991, when an all-male committee's questioning of Anita Hill about her allegations of sexual impropriety against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas angered female voters, who elected dozens of women in November 1992. Thomas was confirmed to the high court.
All 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are men (as are six of the 10 Democrats).
"We've done it because we want to depoliticize the whole process, like the Democrats politicized the Anita Hill thing," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who was on the panel in 1991. "The whole point is to create an environment where it's what Dr. Ford has asked for, to be professional and to not be a circus."
Senate Democrats plan to ask their own questions of Kavanaugh and Ford, and the Democratic members of the committee met midday Tuesday to strategize about the hearing.
"It's up to them," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Calif., the top Democrat on the panel, said of Republicans' plan to use an outside lawyer. "It's certainly their right to do that, and we'll see how it goes. I've been on the committee for 24 years, and I've never seen it before. But we'll see."
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., pushed back at McConnell and Senate Republicans in unusually personal terms, criticizing McConnell for a promise last week to "plow right through" the proceedings despite the drama over Kavanaugh's accusers.
"Does that sound like someone who's treating these allegations with respect and fairness and evenhandedness?" Schumer asked. "Does that sound like someone who wants to get the real facts no matter where they fall? Certainly not to me. Not to the American people."
Ford has alleged that Kavanaugh 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 at a house party in the early 1980s. Kavanaugh has denied being at the party.
Meanwhile, the committee continued its outreach to Ramirez. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-La., said Republicans had been rebuffed after trying to contact her lawyer, and a committee spokesman said it has not received a statement or additional evidence from her legal team after requesting them.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that while the White House is open to testimony from Ramirez, she stressed that the confirmation process needs to come to a close.
The New Yorker reported Sunday that in Ramirez's initial conversations with the publication, "she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh's role in the alleged incident with certainty."
But "after six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away," the magazine said.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, remained quiet about her intentions but stressed that the Thursday hearing should continue - even while the senator called for Ramirez to speak to the Judiciary Committee under oath.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, another potential swing vote, said it was hard to assess Ramirez's credibility at this point.
"If there are allegations out there, then Ms. Ramirez needs to be willing to come forward with them, just as Dr. Ford has been willing to come forward, albeit reluctantly and understandably so," Murkowski said. "And so in order for us to take them under consideration, she needs to take the next steps."
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Ramirez's accusations seem "pretty thinly sourced." As to whether they should be explored, he said he will leave that to the Judiciary Committee. "Whatever they decide is fine with me," Corker said.
By the time the committee holds its hearing Thursday, there could be a third Kavanaugh accuser.
Lawyer Michael Avenatti has said he is representing a woman who has accusations about Kavanaugh's behavior in high school. In a Tuesday morning tweet, Avenatti said the woman would come forward only when she is ready but said he expects that to be within 36 hours.
At their regular Tuesday party lunch, Republicans were told to be prepared to be in Washington this weekend to process Kavanaugh's nomination, senators said.
Meanwhile, another sexual misconduct allegation threatened to play out Thursday on the other side of Capitol Hill. The House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday invited a woman who has accused Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt, a former Democratic congressman, of sexual harassment and retaliation.
The Washington Post's Gabriel Pogrund, Josh Dawsey, Rosalind S. Helderman, Karoun Demirjian and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.
UNITED NATIONS -- Declaring the United States will "never apologize for protecting its citizens," President Donald Trump delivered a defiant defense Tuesday of a transactional world view that is increasingly at odds with consensus-driven international bodies such as the United Nations.
He used an address to the U.N. General Assembly to warn that his administration will reject attempts from other nations to impose constraints on the United States in areas including trade, immigration and security, while inviting other world leaders to do the same.
"America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination," Trump said in a 35-minute address delivered to a packed chamber. "I honor the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs, and traditions. The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship. We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return."
Trump never uttered his campaign slogan of "America First," preferring the loftier term "sovereignty" for the same nationalist and protectionist reordering of American engagement in world affairs.
He wasted little time in declaring he has made progress on this agenda, but Trump's approach to foreign affairs has led to tensions at the international body - a dynamic that was on display in the first moments of the speech as Trump ran through a highlight reel of U.S. economic markers that echoed lines from his campaign rallies.
He boasted that he had made more progress than "almost any other administration in the history of our country" - prompting audible laughs in the cavernous U.N. chamber. A startled-looking Trump appeared thrown off-balance for a moment.
"I didn't expect that reaction, but that's okay," he said, and went on.
The United States was instrumental in founding the United Nations more than 70 years ago, hosts the world body and remains its largest single donor. But Trump has been a persistent critic and his close advisers including national security adviser John Bolton view it with skepticism, warning that the United States need not pay as much nor bend to collective decision-making.
Trump used his speech to issue a sharp warning to the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela and China over what he described as their rogue behavior. He was especially pointed in criticizing Iran, a theme he continued in informal remarks to reporters later in the day.
"Not going to happen," Trump said of any Iranian ambitions for influence and military control across the Middle East.
He cited his withdrawal from the U.N.-backed international nuclear deal with Tehran as a prime example of the new U.S. approach under his presidency. He also ticked through other retractions from the consensus view of most of the other member nations, including declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital and refusing to sign an international compact on migration.
The United States plans to reimpose additional sanctions on Iran in November as the last step in pulling out of the nuclear deal, which Trump long complained treated the United States unfairly.
Trump used his maiden appearance at the U.N. last year to rail against North Korea, including insulting leader Kim Jong Un as "Rocket Man." But he struck a far more optimistic tone this year, following a historic one-on-one meeting with Kim in June with a second summit tentatively planned for later this year.
Trump publicly thanked Kim for his "courage and the steps he has taken." He emphasized that Pyongyang has not tested a ballistic missile since the engagement process began early this year.
Asked later whether the same trajectory of tough talk and threats to warmer relations might be repeated with Iran, Trump said he was open to future talks on a different nuclear deal.
"I think that, at some point, they're going want to negotiate. I have said 'no,' so far," Trump said.
"It was me that said, 'no,' not them," he added, a reference to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's remark Monday that he would not meet with Trump in New York this week.
"I think that at some point we will have meaningful discussions and probably do a deal," Trump said. "I don't see how it works for them otherwise, because otherwise they're going to be in the worst economic trouble of any country anywhere in the world."
Trump had tweeted earlier Tuesday that he had no plans to see Rouhani now, adding he is "sure he is an absolutely lovely man"
When Rouhani took his own turn at the U.N. rostrum, he blasted expressions of "extreme nationalism and racism" that were clearly aimed at the U.S. president.
Trump was not in the chamber to hear Rouhani, instead helping to host an amiable lunch with other leaders where he observed that in his first appearance at the U.N. last year, "it was a little bit of a foreign territory to me, the United Nations. But now it's like home."
Referring to the bloody civil war in Syria during his address, Trump blamed the "corrupt dictatorship in Iran" for fueling the conflict through money and support for the Bashar al-Assad regime.
"They sow chaos, death and destruction," Trump said. "The United States is conducting a campaign of economic pressure to deny the regime the funds needed to advance their bloody agenda."
On Venezuela, Trump denounced the socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro, whose oppressive leadership has resulted in a collapse of the nation's economy and a massive human rights crisis as hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled the country.
Trump announced new U.S. sanctions on Maduro and his inner circle.
"Virtually everywhere socialism and communism has been tried, it has led to corruption and decay," Trump said. He called on the world to "resist socialism and the misery it brings to everyone."
A Washington Post-ABC poll in July, just after Trump was widely criticized for his performance during a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, found that 47 percent of Americans thought Trump had weakened U.S. leadership in the world, and 30 percent thought he'd made it stronger.
Time and again, Trump returned to the theme of sovereignty during his speech. He cast his immigration and border policies as national security matters and said no one, the U.N. included, will dictate how the United States evaluates those decisions.
"We will not be governed by an international body that is unaccountable to our own citizens," Trump declared. He added that the only long-term solution to the migration crisis is to "help people build brighter futures in their own countries - make their countries great again."