A trio of Republican senators crucial to the confirmation prospects of Judge Brett Kavanaugh criticized President Donald Trump on Wednesday for mocking the account of a woman who has accused his Supreme Court nominee of sexual assault decades ago.
In separate interviews, Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — all considered swing votes on Kavanaugh — took issue with comments the president made the night before at a political rally in Mississippi that drew laughs from his supporters.
“There’s no time and no place for remarks like that,” Flake, R-Ariz., said on NBC’s “Today” show. “To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right. It’s just not right. I wish he hadn’t done it. ... It’s kind of appalling.”
Flake, the Judiciary Committee member who pushed to delay the vote on Kavanaugh so the FBI could investigate, later told the Washington Post that Trump’s comments would not factor into his thinking on the nomination.
“You can’t take it out on other people, the president’s insensitive remarks,” he said.
The impact on Collins and Murkowski was less clear.
About two hours after Flake’s appearance, Collins also took exception to Trump’s remarks, telling reporters, “The president’s comments were just plain wrong.” She did not answer a question about whether the comments could affect how she votes on Kavanaugh.
Speaking to reporters early Wednesday afternoon, Murkowski said: “I thought the president’s comments yesterday mocking Dr. Ford were wholly inappropriate and in my view unacceptable.”
Asked whether the comments would affect her vote, she said: “I am taking everything into account.”
In his most direct attack on Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault while both were teenagers in Maryland, Trump sought Tuesday night to highlight holes in the account Ford gave in sworn testimony to the Judiciary Committee last week.
“ ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ ‘Upstairs? Downstairs? Where was it?’ ‘I don’t know. But I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember,’ ” Trump said of Ford, as he impersonated her on stage.
“ ‘I don’t remember,’” he said repeatedly, apparently mocking her testimony.
Ford has said that the incident happened in an upstairs room at a gathering of teenagers and that she is “100 percent” certain it was Kavanaugh who assaulted her, although she has acknowledged that her memories of other details of the evening remain unclear.
The day after Ford’s testimony, Trump said she was “very compelling” and a “very credible witness.”
His comments at Tuesday’s rally prompted a debate that played out on cable television and elsewhere over whether he had hurt his nominee’s chances.
Among those who weighed in was Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said everything Trump had said was factual, but he took issue with his tone.
“I would tell him, ‘Knock it off, you’re not helping,’” Graham said during an appearance at the Atlantic Festival.
“This is what you get when you go through a trailer park with a $100 bill,” Graham added, paraphrasing an infamous line once used by James Carville, a former campaign strategist for President Bill Clinton, to refer to a Clinton accuser.
Besides Flake, Collins and Murkowski, Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia also have yet to announce how they will vote.
During a floor speech Wednesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reiterated his vow to hold votes this week on Kavanaugh’s nomination, saying: “It’s time to put this embarrassing spectacle behind us.”
He also took aim at Democrats, who have suggested that Friday might be too soon to vote and who have asked for a full briefing by FBI agents of their findings about accusations against Kavanaugh. McConnell characterized those requests as part of an ongoing effort “to move the goal posts” on Kavanaugh’s nomination by senators bent on delay.
“If my friends across the aisle had their way, the goal posts on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination would be in another time zone,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., fired back in remarks after McConnell, saying the week-long delay to let the FBI investigate came at the request of Republican senators who weren’t prepared to vote for Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“Man up and say it’s your decision, not ours,” Schumer said.
He also criticized Trump, calling the president’s comments at the Mississippi rally “beneath the office of the president and beneath common decency.” Schumer said Trump owes Ford an apology.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended her boss during a Wednesday morning television appearance.
“The president is pointing out factual inconsistencies by Ford’s own testimony,” Conway said on Fox News. “There are gaps in her memory. There are facts she cannot remember.”
At a White House briefing later in the day, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed those arguments and asserted a double standard when it comes to questioning the testimony of Ford and questioning the testimony of Kavanaugh.
“It wasn’t anything but the president stating facts,” Sanders said. She declined to say whether Trump still believes Ford was credible.
Those interviewed by the FBI so far include a second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, who alleges that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while both were at Yale.
A third accuser, Julie Swetnick, has yet to be interviewed, according to her attorney, Michael Avenatti.
Swetnick said last week in an affidavit that Kavanaugh was present at a house party in 1982 where she alleges she was the victim of a gang rape, a claim he vehemently denies.
On Tuesday, Avenatti released a written declaration from a second woman whose statements supported Swetnick’s claims. The woman, whose name was redacted in the document Avenatti posted, said she “witnessed firsthand Brett Kavanaugh, together with others, ‘spike’ the ‘punch’ at house parties I attended with Quaaludes and/or grain alcohol.”
Avenatti said in a tweet Wednesday that the unidentified woman, who says in the affidavit she now lives in South Florida, “is prepared to meet with the FBI today and disclose multiple facts and witnesses.”