Despite what you might be hearing loudly shouted on social media or cable news, what happens next in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process has very little to do with who has the majority, who has the official authority to make political decisions, who has the official authority to investigate what crimes, or anything along those lines. Instead, it comes down almost entirely to leverage – and at least two of the sides in this three-way fight are now making clear that they know it.
When the GOP Senate agreed to delay the hearings in order to allow Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to testify, it was admitting that it knew it couldn’t get away with moving forward without her testimony. That alone obliterated the “Republicans are going to confirm Brett Kavanaugh no matter what” argument that’s been so prevalent since this process started. Ford was smart enough to spot this, and so she decided to try to use it to her advantage.
Ford told the GOP Senate that she didn’t want to testify unless the FBI investigated first. She’s clearly betting that this will push the GOP – which has already acknowledged that it needs her testimony – into inviting the FBI in. This would probably result in Kavanaugh quickly withdrawing himself, because an FBI probe would likely result in him going to prison.
Even if the attempted rape accusation couldn’t be proven, the FBI could (and would) nail him for any lies he might tell them during the investigation, or his felony perjury before Congress about other matters, or whatever those dark secrets are in his personal finances. Obviously the Senate Republicans don’t want to have to agree to bring in the FBI, because they know it would probably cause Kavanaugh to run for the hills. So we’re seeing some Republicans trying to spin this any way they can, in the hope of somehow convincing the public that they don’t need Ford after all – even as other Republicans try other tactics.
It’s why Jeff Flake, who already admitted that he wasn’t willing to vote until he’s heard from Dr. Ford, is now bluffing by saying “let’s vote” without hearing from her. It’s why Susan Collins, who straddles the fence more than anyone in the Senate, is now all but begging Ford to come testify on Monday. Within a day or two, these Republican Senators will presumably see that this kind of posturing isn’t doing anything to shift public opinion in their favor. That’s when we’ll see how each of these Republicans really plans to play this. If, for instance, Collins ends up calling for an FBI investigation, then Kavanaugh is finished. If the GOP keeps standing its ground, we’ll see what Ford has up her sleeve next.
Here’s the one thing we know for sure: Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has already come this far. She’s already taking all the slings and arrows for having publicly identified herself. At this point she’s not going to simply decide not to testify, allowing the Senate Republicans to rubber stamp Brett Kavanaugh. She’s trying to use her testimony to force the FBI into the mix, which would finish Kavanaugh off. The GOP is trying to figure out how to keep her from forcing its hand.
Everything we see and hear this week from all sides will be posturing, aimed at applying leverage. We’ll see Republican Senators contradict themselves and each other, backtrack, you name it. They’ve lost the upper hand to Ford, so they’ll try anything to try to shift that equation. Don’t take any of it at face value. The GOP admitted it needed Ford’s testimony when it delayed the committee vote. Nothing they can say this week will undo that. They’re simply throwing things at the wall and hoping the wind of public opinion somehow starts blowing in their favor before Monday.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report