I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, September 20, 2018. 47 days until Election Day 2018. 775 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kavanaugh accuser, Senate Republicans in standstill over Monday hearing
Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her when they were both in high school, is resisting the Senate Judiciary Committee's invitation to testify at a swiftly-scheduled hearing on Monday. Her stance is breathing new life into Kavanaugh's nomination, which seemed endangered just days ago.
"Dr. Ford was reluctant thrust into the public spotlight only two days ago," Lisa Banks, an attorney for Ford, said in a letter to the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. "She is currently unable to go home, and is receiving ongoing threats to her and her family's safety. Fairness and respect for her situation dictate that she should have time to deal with this."
Banks wrote that Ford believes the committee's plan to hold a hearing with only her and Kavanaugh testifying signals that theirs is "not a fair or good faith investigation," adding that "there are multiple witnesses whose names have appeared publicly and should be included in any proceeding." In another letter to the committee on Tuesday, Ford's lawyers said that while she "wants to cooperate with the Committee," she would not testify until a "full investigation" was opened by the FBI. Banks stuck to that position on Wednesday, writing that "a full non-partisan investigation" by the law enforcement agency, not Congress, is needed and "the rush to a hearing is unnecessary, and contrary to the Committee discovering the truth."
So far, Senate Republicans have also shown no sign of backing down from their position. "It is no the FBI's role to investigate a matter such as this," Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wrote in a letter to Ford's lawyers on Wednesday, reiterating his invitation for her to "tell her story" to the panel in either a private or public setting on Monday. Grassley sought to set a deadline for Ford, writing that she would need to submit a biography and her prepared testimony by Friday at 10am if she plans to testify on Monday.
Many Republicans seen as swing votes, particularly since Ford came forward over the weekend, strongly urged the accuser to change her mind and come before the committee. "I hope that Dr. Ford will reconsider and testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday," Sen. Susan Collins (D-ME) tweeted Wednesday. "When Dr. Ford came forward, I said that her voice should be heard and asked the Judiciary Committee to delay its vote on Judge Kavanaugh. It did so," Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) tweeted. "I now implore Dr. Ford to accept the invitation for Monday, in a public or private setting. The committee should hear her voice."
But if she opts not to appear on Monday, Republicans have also signaled that the panel will go ahead with the scheduled 10am hearing (with Kavanaugh as the only witness) and then continue on to a committee-level vote, possibly as soon as Wednesday. "If we don't hear from both sides on Monday, let's vote," Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) tweeted Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have mostly defended Ford, joining her call for an FBI probe and pointing to the agency's investigation of Anita Hill's 1991 sexual harrasment allegation against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas as precedent. "In 1991, the FBI reopened a background investigation. Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas were interviewed. Every day more people came forward claiming firsthand knowledge of the events," Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein tweeted Wednesday. "It’s time for the FBI to do the same today. Why are Republicans resisting an investigation?"
According to Politico, with Ford seeming increasingly unlikely to appear before the committee on Monday, President Donald Trump and his GOP allies are "growing more confident" that Kavanaugh can weather the allegation and still be confirmed. "I really want to see her. I really would want to see what she has to say," Trump told reporters on Wednesday, saying it "would be unfortunate" if she doesn't show up to the hearing. "This is a very tough thing for him and his family. And we want to get it over with," he added.
But their confidence comes at a cost, according to the Washington Post, which reports that Republican lawmakers and strategists privately fear the political fallout that could come with installing Kavanaugh on the high court. According to the Post, top Republicans fear that Kavanaugh being confirmed could hurt their political chances with women and independent voters in November, reminiscent of when Hill's allegations against Thomas in 1991 led to a "Year of the Woman," when a wave of Democratic women were swept into office, the next election cycle.
--- Other witnesses: Mark Judge, who Ford accused of participating in the alleged sexual assault, wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that he has "no memory of this alleged incident" and said he does "not wish to speak publicly" regarding the accusation... Patrick J. Smyth, who claims to be the other person Ford remembers being at the party (she has not made this claim publicly), said in a Wednesday statement to the committee that he has "no knowledge of the party in question," per CNN... meanwhile, a schoolmate of Ford's posted on Facebook on Wednesday that she heard about the alleged incident at school after it occurred.
--- Vote count: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) announced plans to vote against Kavanaugh's nomination on Wednesday. Although she cited concerns over his stance on anonymous political contributions, not the Ford allegations, the accusation is seen as giving cover to red-state Democrats to oppose Kavanaugh.
--- Ford profile: "From the Anonymity of Academia to the Center of a Supreme Court Confirmation" (New York Times)
Shutdown watch: President Trump confirmed Republicans' worst fears this morning, coming just short of rejecting their plan to keep the government open past the September 30 deadline. Both houses of Congress are on track to approve an $854 billion bill that funds some government agencies, while also providing for other agencies to maintain their current funding levels through December 7. Crucially, the legislation does not address Trump's proposed Mexican border wall — and this morning, the president came close to reigniting his threat to veto a spending bill that didn't fund the wall. "I want to know, where is the money for Border Security and the WALL in this ridiculous Spending Bill, and where will it come after the Midterms?" he tweeted, adding: "REPUBLICANS MUST FINALLY GET TOUGH!"
Trump vs. Sessions: President Trump went after a familiar target on Wednesday, his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. "I don't have an attorney general. It's very sad," he said in an interview with Hill.TV. Trump later clarified his remarks, telling reporters that "we have an attorney general" but saying that he was "disappointed" in Sessions "for many reasons." In the interview, Trump also attacked special counsel Robert Mueller, referring to his investigation as "fraudulent," and the FBI, which he called a "cancer in our country." According to the Washington Post, Trump's renewed attacks on Sessions amounted to "a raw expression of vulnerability and anger from a president who associates say increasingly believes he is unprotected."
Inside Congress: A group of renegade House Democrats is floating a plan that would make it more difficult for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to become Speaker if Democrats win the House majority this year. According to CBS News, these Democrats would require the new party leader to win the votes of at least 218 Democrats (which would comprise a majority of the entire House), not just a majority of the Democratic caucus.
--- Foreign government hackers are targeting the personal email accounts of U.S. Senators and their aides, a lawmaker claims, according to the Associated Press.
Russia, Russia, Russia: Two new reports are out about Russia's attempts to interfere in the 2016 election: a Washington Post excerpt from the forthcoming book, "The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy," which is authored by a Post reporter; and a New York Times special section in this morning's newspaper, titled "The Plot to Subvert an Election: Unraveling the Russia Storey So Far."
North Korea: North Korean leader Kim Jong UN wants a second summit with President Trump to discuss the denuclearization process, South Korean president Moon Jae-in told reporters this morning, according to the Washington Post. Moon and Kim met for a three-day summit in Pyongyang earlier this week.
Child separation: "The Department of Health and Human Services is diverting millions of dollars in funding from a number of programs, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, to pay for housing for the growing population of detained immigrant children," Yahoo News reports.
White House schedule
POTUS: President Trump travels to Las Vegas, Nevada today, where he will hold a campaign rally at 10pm Eastern Time. Before the rally, Trump is also set to sit for an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, after citing him as inspiration for ordering the Justice Department to declassify materials related to the Russia investigation. Trump will remain overnight in Las Vegas.
VP: At 10am, Vice President Mike Pence participates in A Seat a the Table: Persecuted Church Summit. At 11:30am, he delivers remarks at a presentation of the U.S. flag to the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation. At 12:30pm, he participates in a National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) lunch. At 1:30pm, Pence participates in the Women Mayors of America Conference. At 1:45pm, he meets with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev of Macedonia, and at 3:30pm, he participates in a phone call with President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador.
Both chambers of Congress are on recess.
*All times Eastern