Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.
A crowd made up largely of activists — gathered in an audience overflow room in the U.S. Capitol complex to watch the Judiciary Committee’s hearing about sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh — sat raptly for the beginning of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. But there were some natural reactions that hinted at what moments would leave a lasting mark from the hearings.
The fraught hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused him of sexual assault, had a line hundreds of people long hours before it kicked off — for an overflow room far from the hearing itself.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) raised heightened concerns about Judge Brett Kavanaugh following the newest allegations of sexual misconduct against him during a private luncheon with other Republican senators on Wednesday, according to CNN.
The senator, a key swing vote on the nomination, brought in a printed out copy of the signed affidavit to the luncheon, and sources told CNN she was visibly unnerved by the latest allegations, and questioned why Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge hadn’t been subpoenaed to testify about the allegations.
Julie Swetnick wrote a sworn statement to the Senate Judiciary committee on Wednesday claiming she’d seen Kavanaugh commit sexual misconduct at more than 10 parties while they were in high school, and that he was present at a party where she was raped.
“Obviously I take it seriously and believe that it should be investigated by the committee,” Collins told reporters of the new allegation earlier in the day. “My understanding is the committee’s investigators have already made a request.”
As TPM reported earlier, GOP lawmakers were grim as they exited the meeting, and took a more subdued tone towards the upcoming hearings than they had earlier.
Republicans can’t lose more than one of their own on the Kavanaugh vote if all Democrats vote against him. Collins and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) appear to be the most likely defectors.
A day after making calling the allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh “even more absurd” than the ones Anita Hill made a generation ago against Clarence Thomas, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) is seeking to clean up his remarks — without walking away from his view that the allegations are “absurd.”
“The question I was answering was how the current accusation against Brett Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford compared to the Anita Hill accusation against Clarence Thomas,” Cramer said in a statement to TPM Saturday afternoon. “The point of my answer was that the current allegations were even more absurd. At the time, there was a sense of legitimacy to what Anita Hill was saying, but it is hard not to be skeptical considering the timing and history of the allegation Brett Kavanaugh is facing. Of course, any allegation of this nature should be taken seriously, but absent significant evidence being brought forth immediately, I feel Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation process should proceed.”
Cramer, a top Senate candidate facing Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), doesn’t exactly back away from the thrust of remarks made Friday on a local radio show that Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh are “absurd.” But he steers away from his earlier remarks dismissing her accusations even if they were true “because these people were teenagers” and because “it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere,” in an attempt to walk back his earlier mockery of the details of the claim itself.
His Friday comments, surfaced by TPM and CNN, triggered an immediate firestorm in the political world.
They also drew a sharp rebuke from Heitkamp’s campaign.
“His comments were disturbing and representative of a bigger issue Congressman Cramer has with respecting women and victims of assault or abuse. As a public official elected by the people of our state, he owes North Dakotans answers on his deeply troubling views regarding sexual assault,” Heitkamp campaign manager Libby Schneider said in a Saturday statement. “Regardless of one’s opinion on the Supreme Court nominee, allegations of sexual assault should never be trivialized or diminished – as Congressman Cramer did yesterday. To insinuate that an assault shouldn’t be taken seriously because it ‘never really went anywhere’ is as dangerous as it is offensive. It’s unfortunate that this even needs to be said, but clearly it does – sexual assault is never OK.”
They risk damaging Cramer’s campaign even in the deep red state. The candidate has led Heitkamp in most recent public and private polling, but Democrats hope gaffes like this give her a chance to claw her way back to the lead.
The Senate Judiciary Committee and Ford continue to negotiate on whether and when she’ll testify, though the most recent tentative agreement has her and Kavanaugh up on the hill on Wednesday.
Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), the GOP Senate nominee, said Friday that giving credence to allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a young woman when they were teenagers is “absurd.”
Cramer sounded off on professor Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that Brett Kavanaugh drunkenly sexually assaulted her when she was 15 and he was 17 during a radio interview, describing them as “even more absurd” than Anita Hill’s accusations that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her because of Kavanaugh’s age at the time and because it was “an attempt or something that never went anywhere.”
“This case is even more absurd because these people were teenagers when this supposed, alleged incident took place. Teenagers. Not a boss, supervisor-subordinate situation as the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill situation was claimed to be,” he said during an appearance on KNOX. “These are teenagers who evidently were drunk according to her own, her own statements. They were drunk when it evidently happened… even by her own accusation. Again, it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere. So you just have to wonder.”
Cramer’s comments could hurt him as he seeks to defeat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) this fall. Strategists in both parties believe Cramer currently leads in the race, making him the Republican candidate most likely to become a senator next term in Congress, but Democrats believe Heitkamp is still within striking distance. Heitkamp has yet to say how she’ll vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Cramer’s comments also make him the latest high-profile Republican to shrug off Blasey Ford’s claims of sexual assault due to Kavanaugh’s age when the alleged assault took place, and minimize the severity of what he is accused of doing — what Blasey Ford’s attorney said she believes was “attempted rape.”
President Trump himself took to Twitter on Friday morning to question why she hadn’t reported the incident to the police at the time that it happened. Other Republicans have gone even further, including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who rolled his eyes at the accusation because the alleged incident occurred when they were in high school, and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), who joked that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had accused President Abraham Lincoln of groping her.
Setting everything else he said aside, Cramer’s description of Blasey Ford’s accusations are factually incorrect. She told the Washington Post last Sunday that Kavanaugh and his friend who was in the room with them were “stumbling drunk” but that she and the others at the party had one beer apiece.
Cramer’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on his remarks.
Heitkamp took a dim view of her opponent’s comments.
“Congressman Cramer’s comments are disturbing and they don’t reflect the values of North Dakota,” she said in a statement to TPM Friday evening.
Here’s the audio of what Cramer said — the quoted remarks start at around 4 minutes and 30 seconds in, though it’s worth listening to his full comments.
Here is his full quote, after being asked about former Vice President Joe Biden’s recent apology for how he handled the Anita Hill hearings in 1991:
“I suspect what he means is that we should never have let Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court like we did. Thank God they did because what an incredible man of justice and character and and you know, a testimony to the, to the American dream. This wonderful minority black man with a brilliant mind and an incredible background. What an incredible testimony he’s been to the resilience of the American spirit. So if that’s what he means yeah, great point. They shouldn’t have done what they did. But I would even say this, this is where this one’s different. If to the degree there was a legitimacy to Anita Hill’s claims, and she tried and didn’t prevail, Clarence Thomas did and America did. This case is even more absurd because these people were teenagers when this supposed, alleged incident took place. Teenagers. Not a boss, supervisor-subordinate situation as the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill situation was claimed to be. These are teenagers who evidently were drunk according to her own, her own statements. They were drunk when it evidently happened… even by her own accusation. Again, it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere. So you just have to wonder. Here’s what I worry about and maybe this could be my final word on unless you have another question, but what I worry about is why would any good person ever put themselves forward to be a judge an Appellate Court Judge, Supreme Court justice, frankly a member of Congress or the United States Senate, the governor, anything else, if this is the new standard, you know, roll out an accusation that, that no one else can corroborate and we believe the accuser without appropriate due process, it’s going to get it very difficult to get good people to do these jobs. It’s going to be the standard if you have to have a perfect record in junior high and high school.”
This story was updated at 9:10 p.m. to include Heitkamp’s response.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has canceled its remaining TV ad reservations for vulnerable Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA), TPM has confirmed, making him the first GOP incumbent the party has officially abandoned as it looks to save its House majority.
Rothfus is facing off against Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) in a swing district in the Pittsburgh suburbs, and has been viewed as an underdog in the race for some time.
But the national GOP’s decision to walk away from him marks the beginning of a new period for the campaign. The NRCC had until this point refused to give up on any of its incumbents in spite of a bleak national climate. That’s a tough conversation to have with any loyal foot soldier who can’t win their race but a necessary one to save valuable and scarce resources better used on races that can still be saved.
This move doesn’t come as a huge shock, but it could be a new inflection point for the NRCC. Other incumbent Republicans who strategists have privately said might be beyond saving include Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Erik Paulsen (R-MN). The NRCC never placed a TV reservation for Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), another member many strategists view as a goner.
The GOP ad-purchasing firm Medium Buying, which tracks campaign ad reservations, originally reported the cancellations. Two sources confirmed the cancellation to TPM.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) seems to think it’s ridiculous that allegations of teenage sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have become a part of the discussions over his confirmation.
“George Orwell, he was so incredibly insightful and could see what’s going to happen. But that’s the challenge you’re going to have. At least I didn’t have to deal with that,” he said. “Look at right now. This guy who’s going to be our Supreme Court justice, and he better be our Supreme Court judge, he’s a perfect candidate, and what do they say? ‘Well, in high school you did this.’ High school? Give me a break.”
An audio recording of Rohrabacher comments was shared with TPM and appears from context to have been made last Saturday at a campaign event with supporters, after the details of the accusation had been made public but before California-based professor Christine Blasey Ford agreed to identify herself in a Sunday interview with the Washington Post in which she accused Kavanaugh of drunkenly sexually assaulting her when the two of them were in high school.
Rohrabacher’s campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests for clarification as to when the event took place or about the remarks themselves. Rohrabacher’s wife and campaign manager Rhonda seemed to hang up the phone after this reporter identified himself as working for TPM during a brief conversation Wednesday morning. Subsequent calls went straight to voicemail, and she didn’t respond to text messages.
The iconoclastic congressman is a close ally of President Trump as well as Russia. He’s facing the toughest campaign of his career in an Orange County district that was once solidly Republican but has moved hard towards the center in recent years.
His comments seemed to be addressed at younger volunteers, and were made during longer remarks warning about Orwellian monitoring of private communications.
Rohrabacher said that a few years from now “every phone call you make, every deal you make, every time you click something up on your word processor, or your home computer, they’re going to have records of this. And then the bad guys are determining what’s hate speech and what’s not. And if you’re sending something over the internet or Facebook and they determine that it’s hateful, and of course anything that disagrees with their anti-American philosophy is hateful.”
He then transitioned into the aside about Kavanaugh.
The full audio of the event can be heard below, with his relevant remarks beginning around the nine-minute mark:
Rohrabacher also took swipes at “American liberal left politicians,” claiming that they long have been and will continue to “undermine things that make our country strong because they don’t believe in our country.”
As examples, he mentioned the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and included the last two Democratic nominees for president.
“Obama was not a patriot. Obama and his gang don’t like the United States. Hillary did not like the United States. And what we’ve got is we’ve got an academe now that’s teaching these young people what’s wrong with us and they’re being taught to hate us,” he said at the top of his remarks.
The event appears to have taken place on Saturday, as the audio of the remarks must have occurred in recent days to include discussion of the accusations against Kavanaugh. Rohrabacher held a campaign grill-out for volunteers on Saturday, and on the audio recording there is discussion of the barbecue.
Senate Democrats slammed their GOP counterparts for scheduling what they described as a “sham” hearing on allegations of sexual assault levied against Judge Brett Kavanaugh on Tuesday, ripping them for refusing to allow corroborating witnesses.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) will remain on the ballot this November, a Republican source with knowledge of his decision tells TPM, a blow to the GOP’s hopes of holding onto a seat once viewed as safely Republican.
The move comes after a month of legal wrangling in which Collins, who’s under indictment for insider trading, sought to get off the ballot and give another Republican a chance to hold the seat for the party this fall.
But the deadline to remove himself had passed — and Collins’ change of heart and decision not to cooperate with local Republicans leaves them stuck with the indicted congressman as their candidate.
“At this point they’d have to accept and cooperate with any plans they’d put in place. They’ve chosen not to do so,” Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy said in a Monday press conference. “I’m disappointed.”
With Collins on the ballot, Democrats have a serious shot at winning a conservative upstate New York district that President Trump carried by a 25-point margin just two years ago, the latest headache for the GOP. Republican strategists privately concede that their chances of hanging onto House control are slim.