Kavanaugh, Ford get a hearing - with a surprise assist from the president

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this month.
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this month. AP Photo

Senate Republicans found themselves politically cornered Monday as they considered 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.

But a surprise source is helping turn the Senate toward doing the right thing: Donald Trump.

Answering questions from reporters Monday afternoon, the president said that he wanted Kavanaugh to go through “a complete process” before getting nominated. “He is somebody very special; at the same time, we want to go through a process, we want to make sure everything is perfect, everything is just right,” Trump said. “If it takes a little delay, it will take a little delay — it shouldn’t certainly be very much.”

That presumably meant a hearing for the nominee and his accuser, something many Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, had resisted until then. But late Monday, the White House announced that Kavanaugh is indeed ready for a hearing to answer Ford’s allegations. Soon after, senators confirmed that hearing would be next Monday, which would delay a planned Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh.

That deadline was artificial but one that suddenly had taken on outsized importance to Republicans, who 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. Ford deserves an opportunity to tell her story, and Kavanaugh deserves an opportunity to respond and clear his name. But also, Americans deserve the opportunity to see both the allegation and the denial investigated by the FBI and examined in a public 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, some senators instead focused Sunday and Monday on why Democrat Dianne Feinstein hadn’t previously asked 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,” North Carolina’s Thom 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 might still happen. Monday’s hearing carries echoes of the 1991 testimony offered by Anita Hill, who accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment before he eventually was confirmed by the Senate. Now, more than a quarter-century later and against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, we hope a new accuser and nominee get a fair and full hearing.