Absent an unpredictable event at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, Republicans intend to move quickly to advance Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court.
The committee is scheduled to hear from two witnesses, Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when they were high school students in 1982. Republicans believe it's unlikely the hearing will yield a definitive outcome, leaving senators to weigh Ford's allegations with Kavanaugh's denials.
GOP leaders also believe Senate Democrats' handling of the accusations have been transparently political, designed to derail Kavanaugh's nomination with an impossible-to-prove allegation. They also say a second accusation, first reported Sunday in the New Yorker, is thinly sourced and refuted in key respects by other media accounts.
All this amounts to a partisan piling-on, in the eyes of Republicans, who intend to press ahead and seize what they view as a historic opportunity to gain an originalist court majority.
"If you want to have a longtime impact on what kind of country we're going to have for the next generation, the single most consequential thing we can do is these lifetime appointments of men and women to the court who believe that the job of a judge is to follow the law," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week to a group of conservative activists.
If the hearing produces what Republicans expect – a partisan stalemate – they plan to quickly schedule a vote to advance the nomination out of the committee, perhaps as soon as later Thursday or Friday.
Republicans hold a one-seat majority on the Judiciary Committee and would need all their members to support the nomination. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a member of the committee, is publicly undecided on Kavanaugh's nomination but hasn't said he would vote to block the nomination in committee.
If the nomination clears the committee, GOP leaders intend to begin debate on the Senate floor as soon as Saturday after a key procedural vote, which would signal whether Republicans ultimately have the votes needed to confirm Kavanaugh.
Overall, Republicans' Senate majority is a wafer-thin 51-49. Because Vice President Mike Pence can cast tie-breaking votes, Republicans can afford to lose only one GOP vote and still confirm Kavanaugh.
But some Senate Democrats may vote for Kavanaugh, particularly some of those who are seeking re-election in November in states won by President Donald Trump in 2016. Three Democrats – Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana – voted last year to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
If Republican leaders prevail on the initial procedural vote and take up the Kavanaugh nomination on the Senate floor this weekend, that would tee up a confirmation vote early next week.
"I want to make it perfectly clear...Judge Kavanaugh will be voted on here on the Senate floor," McConnell said Monday in a Senate speech. "Up or down on the Senate floor. This fine nominee to the Supreme Court will receive a vote in the Senate in the near future."
Still, Republicans acknowledge they don't currently have the votes committed publicly to confirm Kavanaugh and that new details emerging or the public's reaction to Thursday's testimony could upend their planned timetable.
If Senate Republicans cannot confirm Kavanaugh, it's not likely they could confirm another nominee before the November midterm elections. If Republicans maintain their Senate majority after the elections, the GOP could confirm a nominee during the post-election lame-duck session.
If Democrats win a Senate majority in November, Republicans leaders would be unlikely to try to force a lame-duck vote on a nominee.
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