Sep 18, 2018

Monday's hearing of a lifetime

Kavanaugh's Sept. 4 confirmation hearing. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh was asked privately yesterday about what past girlfriends would say about his conduct, as frenzied Republican officials prepared him for an epic hearing on Monday when he will rebut charges of a drunken sexual assault during high school.

What's happening: A source tells Axios the question about girlfriends was designed to help Kavanaugh's advocates show there was no pattern of conduct similar to the charge by Christine Blasey Ford, a biostatistician and research psychologist in the Bay Area who also is expected to testify Monday.

A Republican source close to the process: "It blew up [on Sunday]. ... Now we've gone back toward reason and looking at facts. Psychologically, we feel a lot better about where we are."

  • The momentous announcement from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): "[T]he Committee will hold a public hearing with Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford," at 10 a.m. Monday in the Hart Senate Office Building.

A senior Republican official close to the process, who admitted aides are worried about the hearing, says: "This gives the judge the opportunity to clear his name. But there is no room for error from members on the committee."

  • "Judge Kavanaugh could nail it and she could be terrible. But here's my fear: This all depends so much on the performances of two people."
  • "And that's a lot to have outside your control, and that's not even accounting for the members themselves doing something stupid."
  • "It's the circus of it. It's designed for TV, it's not designed for answers. You're just adding a huge element of the unexpected and the unpredictable."

Kavanaugh spent nine hours behind closed doors at the White House yesterday, according to CNN, calling senators and huddling with White House Counsel Don McGahn.

  • White House counselor Kellyanne Conway set the tone for the day by saying on "Fox & Friends": "This woman should not be insulted and she should not be ignored."

A source close to Trump, who remained uncharacteristically quiet about the fracas, said:

  • "I actually think on this one he understands it's up to Brett to defend himself. I don't think the President's going to take responsibility for that. The President wants him to run his own show; and I think that's because if this was the President, he'd want to run his own show."

Swan's whip count: Folks involved in the process seem to be most worried about Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — even more so than Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), whom they're quite worried about.

  • In a reassuring comment for the White House, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Judiciary Committee member, told Fox News' Sean Hannity that he "will look at everything in Judge Kavanaugh's life, not just this accusation. And I feel good about it."

Be smart: Because Ford told the Washington Post there are many details she doesn't remember, Republican officials don't expect new facts corroborating her account to emerge. Instead, they expect new scrutiny of her.

  • The great unknown will be the emotion in the room — and the consequences if her testimony is credible.

Go deeper

South Korea and Italy see spikes in coronavirus cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus continues to spread to more nations, and the U.S. reports a doubling of its confirmed cases to 34 — while noting those are mostly due to repatriated citizens, emphasizing there's no "community spread" yet in the U.S. South Korea's confirmed cases jumped from 204 on Friday to 433 on Saturday, while Italy's case count rose from 3 to 62 as of Saturday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 2,362 people and infected more than 77,000 others, mostly in mainland China. New countries to announce infections recently include Israel, Lebanon and Iran.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 7 mins ago - Health

Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins

Bernie Sanders rallies in Las Vegas, Nevada on Feb. 21. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Center-left think tank Third Way urgently called on the Democratic front-runners of the 2020 presidential election to challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders on the South Carolina debate stage on Feb. 25, in a memo provided to Axios' Mike Allen on Saturday.

What they're saying: "At the Las Vegas debate ... you declined to really challenge Senator Sanders. If you repeat this strategy at the South Carolina debate this week, you could hand the nomination to Sanders, likely dooming the Democratic Party — and the nation — to Trump and sweeping down-ballot Republican victories in November."

Situational awareness

A combine in Rippey, Iowa harvests soybeans in October 2019. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Catch up on today's biggest news:

  1. U.S. soybean stockpiles expected to drop as exports rebound, USDA says
  2. Warren Buffett releases annual letter, reassures investors about future of Berkshire Hathaway
  3. Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins
  4. Reports: Facebook offers up to $5 for voice recordings
  5. Greyhound bars immigration sweeps