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How Washington is reacting to emotionally charged Kavanaugh hearing

High drama played out in a day-long hearing on the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Christine Blasey Ford offered her much-awaited testimony about the summer day in 1982 that she remembers being assaulted, while Kavanaugh defiantly called it a “political hit.” Amna Nawaz reports, then Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff for more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This has been an extraordinary day before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee.

    High drama and strong emotions played out in a daylong hearing on the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

    Amna Nawaz begins our coverage.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    On Capitol Hill today, demonstrators were the first to have their say, supporters of Christine Blasey Ford, the university professor who alleges Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school.

  • Kimberly Fletcher:

    We have got you back.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And those backing Kavanaugh, who adamantly denies the allegations.

  • Kimberly Fletcher:

    We are the silent majority, and we are silent no more.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Then, inside this Senate hearing room, Ford's much-awaited testimony began.

  • Christine Blasey Ford:

    I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Ford recounted a summer day in 1982 when she says Kavanaugh, along with his friend Mark Judge, assaulted her at a party in suburban Maryland.

  • Christine Blasey Ford:

    Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time, because he was very inebriated and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit underneath my clothing.

    I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. This is what terrified me the most and has had the most lasting impact on my life.

    It was hard for me to breathe. And I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The committee's Republican staff says it has interviewed two unidentified men who claim they had the encounter with Ford, not Kavanaugh and Judge.

    But under questioning by Democrats, Ford said she is — quote — "100 percent certain" of her account.

    California Senator and Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

    So what you are telling us, is this could not be a case of mistaken identity?

  • Christine Blasey Ford:

    Absolutely not.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Democrat Patrick Leahy asked Ford about her strongest memory of the incident 36 years later.

  • Christine Blasey Ford:

    Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Democrats also repeatedly voiced moral support for Ford.

  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.:

    Well, you have given America an amazing teaching moment.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.:

    You know you are not on trial. You are not on trial.

  • Rachel Mitchell:

    Good morning, Dr. Ford.

  • Christine Blasey Ford:

    Hi.

  • Rachel Mitchell:

    We haven't met.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Republicans on the committee, all of them men, yielded their time to Rachel Mitchell, a sex crimes prosecutor from Phoenix, who meticulously walked forward through details of the incident.

  • Rachel Mitchell:

    Do you recall, prior to getting there — so I'm only talking about up to the gathering — had you had anything to drink?

  • Christine Blasey Ford:

    Not at all.

  • Rachel Mitchell:

    Were you on any sort of medication?

  • Christine Blasey Ford:

    None.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mitchell also probed Ford's decision to go public with her allegations, including her decision to take a polygraph test paid for by her lawyers.

  • Rachel Mitchell:

    Why did you decide to take a polygraph?

  • Christine Blasey Ford:

    I didn't see any reason not to do it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For the first part of the day, Republicans remained largely silent in the hearing room, but during breaks weighed in.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    I feel ambushed as the majority. We're going to hear from Mr. Kavanaugh, Judge Kavanaugh. And I have been a judge, a prosecutor and a defense attorney. And here's what I will tell you.

    When it comes to where it happened, I still don't know. I don't know when it happened. She said she's 100 percent certain it did happen. I bet you Judge Kavanaugh will say, I'm 100 percent sure I didn't do it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Democrats asked again today that the FBI investigate Ford's claims, something President Trump has declined to order. And committee Republicans have said, it's not necessary.

  • Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa:

    I thank you very much for your testimony, more importantly for your bravery coming out.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    After four hours of testimony, the committee dismissed Dr. Ford and turned to Judge Kavanaugh.

  • Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa:

    Do you affirm that the testimony you are about to give before the committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

  • Brett Kavanaugh:

    I do.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Defiant as he made his defense, blasting Democrats for what he called — quote — "a calculated and orchestrated political hit."

  • Brett Kavanaugh:

    I wasn't at the party described by Dr. Ford.

    This confirmation process has become a national disgrace. When I did at least OK enough at the hearings that it looked like I might actually get confirmed, a new tactic was needed. Some of you were lying in wait and had it ready.

    And, as we all know, in the United States' political system of the early 2000s, what goes around comes around.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Kavanaugh emphatically continued to deny the allegations made by Dr. Ford.

  • Brett Kavanaugh:

    I am innocent of this charge. I categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation against me by Dr. Ford.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And he struggled to maintain his composure throughout, emotional as he spoke about his family.

  • Brett Kavanaugh:

    The other night, Ashley and my daughter Liza said their prayers. And little Liza, all of 10 years old, said to Ashley, "We should pray for the woman."

    That's a lot of wisdom from a 10-year-old.

    We mean no ill will.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Under questioning by Mitchell, Kavanaugh was similarly put through the paces on the details of his high school years, specifically at one point his alcohol consumption.

  • Rachel Mitchell:

    When you talked to FOX News the other night, you said that there were times in high school when people might have had too many beers on occasion. Does that include you?

  • Brett Kavanaugh:

    Sure.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As the ranking Democrat, Senator Feinstein, questioned him about two more women who have accused him of sexual misconduct and assault this week, Kavanaugh frequently interrupted with frustration.

  • Brett Kavanaugh:

    I'm sorry to interrupt, but you're doing it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And he became increasingly agitated as Democrat Senator Leahy asked about Mark Judge, an author who wrote about the teenage debauchery of a fictitious Brat O'Kavanaugh.

    Republicans have not interviewed Judge, nor asked him to testify.

  • Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.:

    I'm trying to get a straight answer from you under oath. Are you Bart O'Kavanaugh that he's referring to? Yes or no?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Brett Kavanaugh:

    You would have to ask him.

  • Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.:

    Well, I agree with you there. And that's why I wish that the chairman had him here under oath.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But when it came to the question of whether or not Kavanaugh would support an FBI investigation into these matters…

  • Brett Kavanaugh:

    Senator, I will do whatever the committee wants.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … he deferred to the committee.

  • Brett Kavanaugh:

    But your coordinated and well-funded effort to destroy my good name and destroy my family will not drive me out.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we are joined now by our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins, and our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.

    Lisa, you were in the room as this hearing unfolded. Tell us what you were seeing, what stood out to you and, in particular, what you were hearing from senators.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It is very hard to know where to start with this unprecedented hearing for this particular committee and for any Supreme Court nominee, where there was an accuser and a literal prosecutor in the room.

    And I have to say, Judy, the entire day was charged with so — emotion. And my heart rate and I think anyone's heart rate in that room was very high, as maybe it was for viewers as well.

    But I want to tell people there were tears, both for Dr. Blasey Ford as she testified, and also for Judge Kavanaugh. But their testimony and tone was so very different from each other. Blasey Ford was confident, but quiet. You can tell she's inexperienced on Capitol Hill, for example.

    Senators seem to kind of take her in more gentle strides, as did the prosecutor, vs. Judge Kavanaugh, who came in like a thunderclap, a man who was at times angry, at times himself sad, but whose emotions were also very thunderous, and Democratic senators felt that gave them the room to actually push back with equal strength.

    One other note. Dr. Blasey Ford's team tells me she didn't watch Judge Kavanaugh's testimony.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, probably at no place were they watching this more closely than at the White House.

    What were they saying about all this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the White House said that the president watched this hearing very, very closely.

    So far, as of this hour, President Trump is sticking by Brett Kavanaugh. He has not said anything updating us about whether or not he wants to withdraw this nomination.

    However, I will say that Brett Kavanaugh spoke a lot like Donald Trump in his testimony. And I say that because Brett Kavanaugh said, this is about pent-up revenge from the Clintons, invoking the name of Hillary Clinton, which, of course, President Trump has used over and over again, even after he won the campaign.

    He also said that this is pent-up anger about — because of President Trump's win in the 2016 election. So, in that regard, you can almost hear him talking to President Trump, saying,I'm aligning myself with you, and this is — these are people that are angry at you that are trying to come at me.

    We have heard from a member of the Trump family. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that this was — basically kind of ridiculing Dr. Ford's fear of flying, saying that she shouldn't — she was scared to fly for vacations, but she could fly in for this testimony.

    Republicans I have talked to you, though, say that they think that the president's going to stick with Brett Kavanaugh, and that Republicans, if they can get just a couple votes of people that are kind of shaky right now, notably, Senator Jeff Flake, that they can push this through.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, speaking of that, Lisa, what about the reaction of senators not on the Judiciary Committee? What are you hearing?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That is absolutely the key.

    While it seemed like Mr. Kavanaugh, Judge Kavanaugh at times was kind of broadcasting a message for the White House and to the White House, a tone that the White House liked, it is very much a big question now how Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins of Maine take that tone.

    And I have been in touch with their offices. Nothing from them yet. Those two senators alone, perhaps also Jeff Flake, could cause a delay in this voting right now. A reminder, this very committee — haven't even finished this hearing yet — is set to vote on Judge Kavanaugh's nomination at 9:30 tomorrow morning.

    It's really hard to know how to process all of this. But I think, in coming hours, we should hope to hear from Senators Collins and Murkowski on whether they think that vote should happen. Of course, they matter because in the end when it gets to the Senate, those two women can determine if Brett Kavanaugh can pass or not.

    So while he was strong and booming in committee, the question — and one Republican source told me this — they're not sure yet if it's going to come across as strong and confident and sure, or is it going to come across as aggressive and a man who might have been capable of more than people realized?

    It's unclear yet. Republicans aren't sure themselves.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, just quickly, Lisa, to clarify, at this hour, it's not absolutely clear they're going to take a vote tomorrow, the committee?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    At this hour. The vote is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.

    But Senator Grassley, the chairman of the committee, said yesterday that he might revisit that after today's hearing. He has not said that today, but, yesterday, he indicated that any — that this hearing would determine the next steps.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche, just finally, in the background of all this, of course, midterm elections looming just less than six weeks away.

    What are you — you're talking to Republicans and others. What are they saying?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Talking to Republicans all day, a former RNC official, Republican — of the Republican National Committee, someone who worked very high in that organization, told me that Republicans are ready to die on this political hill.

    He said that, while this might look very, very bad for them and hurt them in the midterms, Republican he's talked to you say that they really want this nomination to get pushed through. Karl Rove, who was a senior adviser to George W. Bush, also said that he thought Republicans and the president wanted to get this through.

    But he also said, Republicans — this is going to be a cause celebre for Democrats. They were Democratic women all over the country really waiting and supporting Dr. Ford.

    And I'm going to read really quickly from a woman that I talked to you today. She's a colleague of Dr. Ford named Debra Safer.

    And she told me, "It's not her duty, as a victim, to educate us, but she's educating us about the impact of being a victim of sexual assault and what it means to me disregarded, when two people are having fun and you're suffering."

    So, really, women — so many women watched this and said, that could be me, that could be my daughter, and we need to rally around this woman.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Reactions, of course, playing out across the country, not just on a purely political level, but on a human level, to what we saw today.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, we thank you both.

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