WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing Thursday for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who says he sexually assaulted her as a teenager, agreeing to a date and time after nearly a week of uncertainty over whether Ford would appear at all.
The agreement sets the stage for a dramatic showdown as Kavanaugh and Ford each tell their side of the story. It will also determine the fate of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, which hangs on the votes of a handful of senators. It had seemed assured before Ford, now a 51-year-old California college professor, went public a week ago with her allegation that Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party when they were in high school.
Kavanaugh, 53, an appellate court judge, has denied the allegation and said he wanted to testify as soon as possible to clear his name.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wrangled with Ford’s lawyers for the last week over the exact terms of her appearance. She made several requests, some of which were accommodated — a Thursday hearing, three days later than originally scheduled, and a smaller hearing room with less press access to avoid a media circus, for example. Grassley’s staff also agreed to let Ford testify without Kavanaugh in the room, for there to be only one camera in the room, “adequate” breaks and a high security presence.
The committee said it would not negotiate on other points, though, including Ford’s desire for additional witnesses and a request to testify after, not before, Kavanaugh.
“As with any witness who comes before the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee cannot hand over its constitutional duties to attorneys for outside witnesses,” Mike Davis, Grassley’s top nominations counsel, wrote in an email exchange with Ford’s lawyers obtained by The Associated Press. “The committee determines which witnesses to call, how many witnesses to call, in what order to call them, and who will question them. These are non-negotiable.”
Ford’s lawyers said it was still unclear who will ask questions, as Republicans were trying to hire an outside female counsel who could take over the questioning. The 11 senators on the GOP side of the dais are all men, which could send an unwanted message on live television against the backdrop of the #MeToo era. They could also use Republican staff attorneys on the committee.
Democratic senators were expected to ask their own questions.
“We were told no decision has been made on this important issue, even though various senators have been dismissive of her account and should have to shoulder their responsibility to ask her questions,” the attorneys for Ford said in a statement.