The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday announced a vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for as early as 9:30 a.m. Friday, just hours after he and one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, are scheduled to tell senators their dramatically different stories about her allegation he sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school.
In the face of strong opposition to Kavanaugh, some Senate Republicans have indicated they are eager to vote on his nomination even before they hear from Ford.
"Immediately following the conclusion of Thursday's hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee should vote up or down on Judge Kavanaugh's nomination," Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said in a statement Tuesday.
The top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, immediately called the Republican move "outrageous."
"For Republicans to schedule a Friday vote on Brett Kavanaugh today, two days before Dr. Blasey Ford has had a chance to tell her story, is outrageous. First Republicans demanded Dr. Blasey Ford testify immediately. Now Republicans don't even need to hear her before they move ahead with a vote," Feinstein said in a statement.
The committee's move to schedule a vote, which could still be delayed, comes after some of the strongest language yet from President Donald Trump in defense of his Supreme Court nominee, accusing Senate Democrats of engaging in a "con game" by opposing him.
Calling Kavanaugh a "wonderful human being," the president said Democrats raising questions are not only playing a "con game" but claimed that "they don't believe it themselves, they know he's a high-quality person."
"It's just a game for them but it's a very dangerous game for our country," Trump said of Democrats.
"I can tell you that false accusations are made against all sorts of people ... it would be a horrible insult to our country if this doesn't happen ... it cannot be allowed to happen," Trump said in New York, answering reporter questions at the end of a meeting at the United Nations with the president of Colombia.
Asked about Kavanaugh's interview that aired on Fox News Monday night, the president said he saw it and that Kavanaugh came off truthful. He specifically highlighted Kavanaugh's remarks about being focused on being number one in his class: "To me, that was so believable ... he was so truthful, and I think it came out, I hope it came out."
The president sought to discredit the accusations against Kavanaugh, saying the claims are "totally unsubstantiated" and essentially scoffing about the fact that they are more than 30 years old.
He specifically sought to discredit the second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, when asked if she should be allowed to testify, saying she "has nothing" and noting that even she admits to being drunk and having gaps in her memory, added, "she said she was totally inebriated and she was all messed up."
She told The New Yorker that when both were freshmen at Yale University, Kavanaugh exposed himself at a drunken dorm party and "thrust his penis in her face."
"And now a new charge comes out and she doesn't know that it's him but it could have been him, oh gee, let's not make him a Supreme Court Justice?" Trump said mockingly, speaking of Ramirez.
Senate Judiciary Committee staff held a call with Brett Kavanaugh Tuesday to discuss the Ramirez allegations. Democrats were involved in the call.
The president advised reporters to "look at the lawyers," suggesting they are politically motivated.
Tuesday afternoon, it was revealed that Senate Judiciary Committee staff held a call with Kavanaugh Tuesday to discuss the Ramirez allegations. Democrats were involved in the call but it wasn't immediately clear what transpired.
Earlier on Capitol Hill, the Senate's top Democrat, New York Sen. Charles Schumer, called on his Republican counterpart, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, to apologize to one of Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.
Ford has alleged that a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house party when they were both in high school, pinning her to a bed, groping her and covering her mouth to stop her from screaming. Kavanaugh has categorically denied the claim, saying he's "never sexually assaulted anyone."
On the Senate floor Monday, McConnell called allegations "a Democratic smear job."
"This is what the so-called resistance has become. A smear campaign, pure and simple. Aided and abetted by members of the United States Senate," McConnell said.
On Tuesday, Schumer called McConnell's remarks "shameful."
"Leader McConnell owes an apology to Dr. Ford for labeling her allegations a "smear job." Let me repeat that, Leader McConnell owes an apology to Dr. Ford for labeling her allegations a "smear job." And he should apologize to her immediately," Schumer said on the Senate floor.
"It is galling, galling for the Republican leader, who has done more than maybe anyone to politicize the Supreme Court nomination process, to make these trumped up, hyperbolic charges of partisanship by Democrats," Schumer continued. "It is a sad habit of Republicans to accuse the other side of doing what they, in fact, are doing."
A key Republican vote on Kavanaugh, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, said she would be interested in hearing from Deborah Ramirez, the second woman to accuse Kavanaugh.
"If she has serious allegations that she is willing to come forward on and request the opportunity to be heard as Dr. Ford did, I think that there is a process for all of that, a process before the committee. I don't want to see further delay," Murkowski told reporters Tuesday.
"It's very important to take allegations of those who have come forward, to take them seriously and I think we need to go into this hearing with the view that we will listen to Dr. Ford's story," Murkowski said. "We will listen to Judge Kavanaugh's response and then we will weigh what we have heard."
When asked if she agrees with McConnell that this is a "smear campaign," Murkowski declined to comment directly.
Instead, in a carefully worded response, she said. "I think it is important that we have a process that is viewed as credible and respected."
Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, another key vote if Republicans hope to get Kavanaugh confirmed, was skeptical.
"I read the New Yorker article, it's pretty thin. No one else remembered any of it. This is really kinda getting carried away. It's feeling more like a circus," Corker said.
Corker was more positive about GOP plans to have an outside counsel ask questions of Ford and Kavanaugh when they both appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
"I think it's really smart of them to get outside counsel. Somebody will do something that you guys will run 24/7. Inadvertently, somebody will do something that's insensitive. I would not be wanting to ask questions about something like this. I'm glad they're going to get outside counsel," Corker said.
On Tuesday, the committee said it had hired a former sex crimes prosecutor -- a woman -- to conduct the Republican questioning of Ford.
Chairman Charles Grassley said Tuesday afternoon he would not release her name for the time being in order to ensure her safety, but Sunday evening sent a release confirming Rachel Mitchell would do the job.
"Ms. Mitchell has been recognized in the legal community for her experience and objectivity," Grassley said in a statement. "I've worked to give Dr. Ford an opportunity to share serious allegations with committee members in any format she'd like after learning of the allegations."
McConnell and other Republican leaders appeared more than ever to have their minds made up -- in Kavanaugh's favor.
"We're going to be moving forward. I'm confident we're going to win. I'm confident he will be confirmed in the very near future," McConnell said.
Other Republican leaders talked about Ford's allegations with more skepticism than previously.
"In this case, there's no way the accused can disprove the allegation because he wasn't there, he said. It didn't happen, he said," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said.
Just before, Cornyn said, "As the father of two adult daughters, as I'm approaching this hearing I want to make sure I treat Dr. Ford the same way my daughters would be treated in the event they were making an accusation. Or my mother. Or my wife."
"Certainly difficult to investigate a claim where there's no location, no date, and no witnesses," added Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican.
GOP sets Friday committee vote on Kavanaugh; Trump accuses Democrats of 'con game'