WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans say they're forging ahead in their drive to push Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination through the Senate, even as the woman accusing him of a decades-old sexual attack is threatening to boycott a committee hearing and suggesting she's not being treated with "fairness and respect."
With Kavanaugh's confirmation dangling in the balance, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said his panel still planned a Monday morning hearing that Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford were invited to attend. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has told Ford's attorneys that the panel was giving the California psychology professor until 10 a.m. Friday to submit a biography and a prepared statement "if she intends to testify."
Kavanaugh, currently a judge on the powerful District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, has denied the charges.
Democrats have leapt to Ford's defense, with Washington state Sen. Patty Murray saying Thursday that Republicans should be "ashamed" for pushing forward without a fair investigation. That echoed Democrats' effort to broaden the nomination fight into a referendum on whether women who allege abuse are taken seriously by men — a theme that could echo in this November's elections for control of Congress.
"If you have been assaulted or harassed by a powerful Republican man, you better not talk about it or you're going to pay a price," Murray said.
Through her attorneys, Ford left her attendance in doubt. And despite Grassley's schedule, it remained unclear if that hearing would occur without her, as a drama that has riveted Washington since emerging a week ago was injected with a fresh burst of election-season suspense.
Ford lawyer Lisa Banks said in a statement late Wednesday that Ford would cooperate with a thorough, nonpartisan probe. After indicating earlier this week that she would appear before lawmakers, Ford wants other witnesses — not just Ford and Kavanaugh — to participate and wants the FBI to reopen its background check of Kavanaugh. Those demands have been backed by Democrats but dismissed by top Republicans.
Banks reiterated that Ford has had to leave her home because of threats to her family's safety and said, "Fairness and respect for her situation dictate that she should have time to deal with this."
Meanwhile, small groups of demonstrators gathered in Senate office buildings Thursday to protest Republicans' handling of Ford's claim. Around 100 people marched to Grassley's office for a sit-in, some with fists raised.
President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans have been emphatic that an FBI renewal of its background checks on Kavanaugh won't happen, saying an investigation by committee staff — which Democrats are boycotting — is sufficient.
Republican leaders trying to keep GOP senators behind Kavanaugh are offering Ford a chance to describe her allegation, either in a hearing room before television cameras or in private. Republicans have largely stood by Kavanaugh's denials.
Trump told reporters Wednesday, "He is such an outstanding man. Very hard for me to imagine that anything happened."
That remark was noteworthy because most Republicans have handled the question of Ford's credibility more gingerly. They say they want to give Ford, now a professor at Palo Alto University, every chance to tell her story.
Democrats are casting Republicans as strong-arming a wronged woman, their eyes on a #MeToo movement that has caught fire and exploded the careers of dozens of male titans.
"Republicans are trying to bully her into a rigged hearing," No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin of Illinois tweeted about Ford.
Ford has contended that at a house party in the 1980s, a drunken Kavanaugh tried undressing her and stifling her cries on a bed before she fled.
Republicans are resisting all Democratic efforts to slow and perhaps block what once seemed a smooth path to confirmation that would promote the conservative appeals court judge by the Oct. 1 opening of the Supreme Court's new term. A substantial delay could push confirmation past the November elections, when Democrats have a shot at winning Senate control, plus allow more time for unforeseen problems to pop up.
There were signs the GOP's strategy of planning a nationally televised hearing yet also offering Ford the option to testify privately was keeping possible Republican defections in check. The party controls the Senate 51-49 and the Judiciary panel by 11-10, so it cannot afford GOP "no" votes.
Moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who's had her share of clashes with Trump, said she hoped Ford would reconsider a decision not to testify and "it's not fair to Judge Kavanaugh" if she refuses. "Otherwise, there are these very serious allegations hanging over the head of a nominee who has emphatically denied them," she said on radio WVOM in Bangor.
Going further, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Democrats' demands for an FBI investigation were a ploy to delay a confirmation vote. "It is imperative the Judiciary Committee move forward on the Kavanaugh nomination and a committee vote be taken as soon as possible," the committee member said in a statement.