WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump denounced Democratic efforts to block Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation as a cynical "con job" on Tuesday and launched a dismissive attack on a second woman accusing the nominee of sexual misconduct in the 1980s, asserting she "has nothing."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted that Kavanaugh would win approval, despite the new allegations and uncertainty about how pivotal Republicans would vote in a roll call now expected early next week. Like much of America, lawmakers awaited a momentous Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday in which Kavanaugh and chief accuser Christine Blasey Ford are to testify, though not together.
"I will be glued to the television," said Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine who has yet to declare her position on confirmation.
Hoping for no new surprises, the committee scheduled its own vote on Kavanaugh for Friday, and Republican leaders laid plans that could keep the full Senate in session over the weekend and produce a final showdown roll call soon after — close to the Oct. 1 start of the high court's new term.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Republican chairman of the committee whose 11 GOP members are all male, said in a brief interview that his panel was hiring a female attorney who would ask Ford his party's questions on Thursday. He declined to name her.
"We're doing it strictly to depoliticize the whole operation, to offer Dr. Ford the professional environment she asked for," Grassley said of Ford, now a 51-year-old psychology professor in Northern California.
Democrats weren't buying that.
"My gut is they're trying to avoid a panel of all white guys asking tone-deaf questions," said Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware.
Hanging in the balance in the confirmation fight is Trump's chance to swing the high court more firmly to the right for a generation. Despite McConnell's forecast, Kavanaugh's fate remains uncertain in a chamber where Republicans have a scant 51-49 majority.
While a few Republicans have also strongly challenged the credibility of Kavanaugh's accusers, Trump's words have been more biting. Last week, he lampooned Ford's allegation that an inebriated Kavanaugh trapped her beneath him on a bed at a high school house party and tried to take her clothes off before she escaped. Surely she would have reported it to police if the encounter was "as bad as she says," the president said.
"It's a con game they're playing," he said Tuesday. "They're really con artists. They don't believe it themselves, OK?"
Trump's latest broadside against a Kavanaugh accuser was aimed at Deborah Ramirez, who told The New Yorker magazine that Kavanaugh caused her to touch his penis at a party when both were Yale freshmen. Ramirez conceded she'd been drinking, too, and was uncertain of some details of the alleged incident.
"The second accuser has nothing," Trump told reporters at the United Nations. "The second accuser doesn't even know— thinks maybe it was him, maybe not. She admits she was drunk. She admits time lapses."
Predictably, that played badly with Democrats.
"How many women have heard that before? How many women have kept their experiences quiet because they knew they would hear that?" Sen. Patty Murry of Washington said of Trump's characterization.
She said Trump's remarks were "disgusting, it's disgraceful and by the way, women are paying attention." She herself was carried to Washington on a 1992 wave of fervor by female voters, a year after the Senate discounted sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas and sent him to the Supreme Court.
Republicans also are concerned that, win or lose, the battle is further animating women already inclined to vote against Trump's party in November's elections in which control of the next Congress is at stake.
Treatment of Ford on Thursday will be watched closely.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a potentially key Republican vote, said GOP senators need to come into the hearing with open minds.
"It's very important to take allegations of those who come forward seriously, and I think we need to go into this hearing with the view that we will listen," she said.
On Tuesday, the Republicans were still assessing what Kavanaugh's television interview on the Fox News Channel on Monday — an unusual appearance for a Supreme Court nominee — augured about how he would do in Thursday's hearing.
Some in the White House expressed relief that Kavanaugh presented a positive image to counter the allegations. Yet he appeared shaky at times. And there remained concern among aides and Trump himself about how Kavanaugh would hold up facing far fiercer questioning from Senate Democrats, according to a White House official not authorized to speak publicly.
The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, acknowledged that for the nominee "it's extremely awkward to be talking about such private matters on TV." But Cornyn said he thought Kavanaugh "did well and did what he needed to do" in the interview.
Grassley is planning to use his committee's modest-sized hearing room instead of a far larger chamber that's often home to high-profile hearings. He said in a recent letter that the smaller room would help avoid a "circus atmosphere," and Ford herself has sought to limit the number of TV cameras and journalists covering the event.
Congressional testimony is often magnified by TV close-ups, and a single moment, good or bad, can have a major impact.
Ramirez's attorney, John Clune, said his client stood by The New Yorker story and said he and Grassley's committee were trying to decide how to provide more information to the panel. He said an FBI investigation — which Democrats have also sought for Ford and Trump and Republicans have blocked — "is the only way to get the truth."
Trump's theme was embraced by McConnell, who said Democrats were mistreating Kavanaugh. He said that "vague, unsubstantiated and uncorroborated allegations of 30-plus-year-old misconduct" were "nowhere near grounds to nullify someone's career or destroy their good name."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York retorted that McConnell owed Ford an apology for asserting that the Democrats' use of the women's accusations was a smear campaign. Schumer said McConnell's comment "demeans many, many women."
AP reporters Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick, Padmananda Rama, Matthew Daly, Darlene Superville, Jonathan Lemire, Zeke Miller and Deb Riechmann contributed.