President Donald Trump’s unscripted mockery of Christine Blasey Ford at a rally Tuesday night may have pleased the crowd. But back on Capitol Hill, the senators whose support he needs the most in the coming days to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court were stone-faced and unamused.
Some suggested it could impact their vote.
“I’m taking everything into account,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a critical swing vote on the nomination, told reporters Wednesday. “The president’s comments yesterday mocking Dr. Ford were totally inappropriate and, in my view, unacceptable.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who also remains undecided on Kavanaugh’s nomination, told CNN that Trump’s comments were “just plain wrong.” She declined to answer questions later about whether Trump’s missives would affect her thinking on Kavanaugh.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who last week made his support for Kavanaugh contingent on the outcome of an FBI investigation into allegations of sexual assault leveled against the nominee, also condemned Trump’s comments, calling them “appalling.”
In the weeks since Ford went public with her allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were in high school, Trump and his team have taken great pains to not overtly or directly attack her. Trump even said in the aftermath of Ford’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that she was a “good witness.”
This was part of an effort to avoid offending fence-sitting senators—particularly Collins and Murkowski—who have repeatedly spoken out against Trump’s insults toward women. But the play-nice strategy could only last so long.
At a political rally in Mississippi on Tuesday night, Trump cast doubt on Ford’s claims and mocked her inability to recall details of Kavanaugh’s alleged assault, including where it occurred and how she got there.
“How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know,” Trump said.
Inside Trumpworld, the reaction was one of near glee that Trump had gone aggressively at Kavanaugh’s primary accuser.
“What’s more fun than a Trump rally?” Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser on Trump's re-election campaign, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday evening. When asked if she thought it was appropriate for the president to attack or mock the accuser, she replied, “He didn’t ‘go after her.’ He recapped her testimony.”
Indeed several White House officials reached by The Daily Beast quickly rejected even the mere characterization that Trump had “mocked” or “attacked” Ford, in spite of the president’s open mocking of her.
“The president is pointing out factual inconsistencies. By Ford’s own testimony, there are gaps in her memory, there are facts that she cannot remember,” Kellyanne Conway, White House counselor, spun on Fox News Wednesday morning. During a press briefing that afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the president was just “stating the facts” with his monologue. (Trump had made several factual errors in his description of Ford’s account.)
“We’re pointing out the hypocrisy” of Democrats who “exploited Dr. Ford,” Sanders insisted.
“At this point he’s had enough,” said former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), a Trump surrogate. “Day by day, it has become a political debate not a search for truth… It’s Trump being Trump. Do you think Feinstein crossed the line sitting on the letter? Or isn’t it strange that in the Coons/Flake bipartisan partnership Flake is the only [one] who has done anything bipartisan? It’s all politics now.”
But while the White House and its chief surrogates gloated, even some of the president’s Capitol Hill allies groaned at his Tuesday night comments. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of Kavanaugh’s sharpest defenders, said during the Atlantic Festival that he “didn’t like” Trump’s mockery of Ford and said “it’s not helpful” as Republicans continue to unite behind Kavanaugh and make the case for his confirmation to the high court.
“Anything any of us says that accentuates some of the polarity that we have right now is probably not a good thing,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told reporters. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said, “I wish [Trump] would just stay out of it.”
Others said the president’s comments were just noise.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), a Kavanaugh supporter, said the remarks were “not appropriate” but added: “I don’t know that it makes any difference.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, declined to directly condemn Trump’s conduct, but said the “personal attacks” against both Ford and Kavanaugh must stop.
While Trump’s comments may have a marginal impact on the fence-sitting lawmakers, the result of the FBI report seems likely to have significant ripple effects. Whether the public will ultimately get to view those findings, however, remains unclear. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has vowed to hold an initial procedural vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination this week, said that only senators would be able to view the final report. But rank-and-file Republican senators said on Wednesday that they want the final FBI report to be made publicly available in some form, if only to boost public confidence in the outcome of the Kavanaugh vote.
“If it were my call, I would release it. If it’s not going to be released, I hope that we would have somebody write an objective synopsis and release that,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told reporters.