Republicans in Washington, including Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, find themselves politically cornered today as they consider what to do about the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. That nomination is suddenly in jeopardy thanks to a credible accusation from a California woman, Christine Blasey Ford, that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when both were in high school in the 1980s.
The White House and Republicans are standing by Kavanaugh for now, but there’s apparently some internal consternation about how to respond to Ford and keep Kavanaugh’s nomination on track. Especially important to many is a Thursday vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee to send that nomination to the whole Senate.
Tillis, a member of the Judiciary Committee, told CBS on Sunday that Republicans will “take a look” at Ford’s allegation. That’s not enough. He should call for his fellow Republicans to do two simple and important things: Wait. And listen.
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First, Republicans should delay Thursday’s vote. It’s an artificial deadline — one that suddenly has taken on outsized importance because Republicans believe that any delay equals a loss of momentum for Kavanaugh. But that momentum is gone now, and there’s more peril politically for Republicans in rushing a vote than letting the FBI investigate and Ford testify.
The latter is important. Ford’s attorney said Monday that her client is willing to testify to the Judiciary Committee. Not only is it politically untenable for Republicans to cover their ears and decline that testimony, it simply is wrong. Ford deserves an opportunity to tell her story, and Kavanaugh deserves an opportunity to respond and clear his name. (He says he wants that, and the president says he’d like to see a “complete process.”) But also, Americans deserve the opportunity to see both the allegation and the denial investigated by the FBI and examined in a Judiciary hearing. If that doesn’t happen, Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court will long be haunted by questions surrounding the new justice, especially when cases involving social issues come before the court.
We’re not encouraged that instead of pushing for a hearing, Tillis has thus far joined other Republicans in asking why Democrat Dianne Feinstein didn’t ask Kavanaugh about Ford despite having a letter from her detailing her allegations. “I’m shocked that the matter didn’t come up in the nearly 32 hours of testimony that Judge Kavanaugh was before us,” Tillis told CBS. Feinstein’s answer: Ford didn’t want to move forward with the allegation then, for fear that she would be vilified.
That’s changed now, and so should the committee’s schedule. Republicans outnumber Democrats 11-10 on the Judiciary Committee, which means any one Republican can delay Thursday’s vote if Democrats are united. Sen. Jeff Flake already has suggested he would do so. Tillis should join him and declare that he will not vote to move the nomination forward until the FBI, the full Judiciary Committee and the American people get to take a look with him.