Republicans have said the Senate judiciary committee will vote on the supreme court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, after a full day of extraordinary testimony on Capitol Hill that saw his accuser share her emotional story of sexual assault while he angrily denied the allegation.
The vote will take place on Friday as scheduled, Republican senators said as they left a closed-door meeting just hours after the high-stakes hearing on Thursday. It was still unclear how a handful of key senators would vote.
Asked by reporters if Republicans had enough votes to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full senate, Chuck Grassley, the committee’s Republican chairman, replied: “Depends on what happens tomorrow.”
In a furious and emotional opening statement, Kavanaugh delivered an extraordinary rebuke over the sexual assault allegations against him while defiantly stating: “You’ll never get me to quit.”
Testifying under oath at a historic Senate hearing on Thursday, Kavanaugh forcefully denied the allegations against him made by Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of attempted rape in powerful testimony at the same hearing just hours earlier.
“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” Kavanaugh told lawmakers on the Senate judiciary committee, vacillating between shouting and breaking down in tears. “You have replaced advise and consent with search and destroy.”
“I’m here today to tell the truth: I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone: not in high school, not in college, never.”
Kavanaugh’s performance was praised by Donald Trump, who said his testimony “showed America exactly why I nominated him”.
“His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting,” the president wrote on Twitter after the hearing concluded. “Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”
As the committee prepared for a Friday vote, its result remained uncertain. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican, has voiced concern over Kavanaugh and has not signaled his voting intentions.
“She was certainly a compelling person,” Flake told reporters when asked what his “gut instinct” was after hearing from Ford and Kavanaugh. “She gave good testimony.”
The crucial swing votes of the Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are also in question. Late Thursday night, the Republican senator Bob Corker, who had initially expressed some misgivings, announced his support for Kavanaugh.
Even if the committee backs Kavanaugh, he may not be confirmed by the Senate, where Republicans can similarly only afford to lose one vote before the vice-president, Mike Pence, would be called to break a tie.
Kavanaugh’s remarks, which clocked in at roughly 45 minutes, followed Ford’s testimony and first public appearance since coming forward with the allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were teenagers, more than three decades ago.
With Kavanaugh’s confirmation to America’s highest bench hanging in the balance, Ford recounted in detail how she was allegedly forced into a bedroom by Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, when they were teenagers in the early 1980s.
Ford told of the agony of having to “relive this trauma in front of the world” at a hearing that resembled the saga that took place almost 30 years ago involving the supreme court justice Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, the woman who accused him of sexual harassment during his confirmation process.
“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified,” said Ford, her voice cracking with emotion, in her appearance before the committee.
“I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”
Kavanaugh, Trump’s hardline conservative pick for the vacant seat on the supreme court, had been expected to sail through the confirmation process until Ford came forward earlier this month, followed by two other women who publicly accused him of sexual misconduct. He also forcefully denied those claims.
Kavanaugh’s aggressive tone while appearing before the committee was remarkable for a nominee to the reputationally independent and nonpartisan supreme court. Kavanaugh spent much of his statement lambasting Democrats for trying to derail his nomination – echoing the defense put forth by the White House and Republicans in Congress.
“This is a circus!” Kavanaugh shouted, adding: “The consequences will extend long past my nomination.”
He said: “This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competence in good people of all political persuasions from serving our country.”
Kavanaugh broke down at several turns in his testimony, particularly while discussing the impact of the allegations on his family.
“I am not questioning that Dr Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time. But I have never done that to her or to anyone,” Kavanaugh said.
Ford, a research psychologist from northern California, was the only woman called to testify. She recounted how Kavanaugh had allegedly groped her, tried to remove her clothes and covered her mouth to block her screams.
“This was what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life,” Ford said. Several people in the room were moved to tears by Ford’s testimony, which was delivered with raw emotion and precision.
At one stage, Ford was asked by Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat of Illinois, with what degree of certainty she could state that it was Kavanaugh who attacked her.
“100%,” Ford replied.
When asked about her strongest memory of the incident, Ford replied: “The laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.”
In an indication of how closely Trump was watching the hearing, the White House confirmed that a crucial scheduled meeting between the president and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein was postponed.
“They do not want to do anything to interfere with the hearing,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.
The high stakes were underscored by the tense atmosphere in the small hearing room.
Acknowledging the threats received by both Ford, Kavanaugh, and their families since the allegations surfaced, Grassley used his statement at the beginning of the hearing to say the backlash was “unacceptable and a poor reflection on the state of civility in our democracy”.
The partisan undertones of the hearing were nonetheless swiftly put on display, as Grassley chastised the process by which Ford’s allegations were brought to light. He accused his Democratic counterpart on the committee, the California senator Dianne Feinstein, of withholding Ford’s account as “secret evidence”.
Feinstein disputed Grassley’s version of events, stating she had sought to handle Ford’s allegations in a manner that would honor her initial request for confidentiality.
Republicans later appeared to be forcefully in Kavanaugh’s corner, with several of the panel’s male senators expressing remorse for what the judge and his family had undergone.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and close ally of Trump’s, was visibly fuming when he asked to speak from the dais.
“This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics,” Graham, his face red and his voice booming, said. “If you’re looking for a fair process, you came to the wrong town at the wrong time, my friend.”
Graham then directly taunted his Republican colleagues who might be on the fence about supporting Kavanaugh, warning them: “If you vote no, you are legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics.”
If confirmed to the supreme court, Kavanaugh will shift the nine-justice bench in a decisively conservative direction, potentially reshaping social and cultural issues such as abortion, LGBT rights and immigration for decades to come.
The Republicans on the committee, all of whom are men, delegated their questioning of Ford to an outside female prosecutor from Arizona, Rachel Mitchell. (Four women serve on the committee on the Democratic side.) After initially allowing Mitchell to pose a handful of questions to Kavanaugh, however, the Republicans on the panel sidelined the prosecutor.
The hearing drew immense criticism for excluding Judge, the high school friend of Kavanaugh’s whom Ford said was present for the alleged assault. Republicans refused to subpoena Judge, who said he did not recall any such incident and said he did not wish to testify.
Even Fox News, the conservative network favored by Trump, condemned Republicans early in the day over their handling of the hearing.
“This is a disaster for the Republicans,” the Fox host Chris Wallace said, while adding of Ford’s testimony: “This was extremely emotional, extremely raw and extremely credible.”
Before the hearing, Republicans had cast doubt on Ford’s account and dismissed the allegations against Kavanaugh as part of a “smear campaign” orchestrated by Democrats to obstruct his nomination. Democrats said Kavanaugh should withdraw his nomination and called for an FBI investigation into the allegations.
In her testimony, Ford rebuked the notion that she was “acting out of political motivations”.
“Those who say that do not know me. I am a fiercely independent person and I am no one’s pawn,” she said.
“It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the supreme court. My responsibility is to tell the truth.”