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Kavanaugh battle may energize Republicans ahead of 2018

Three key Republican senators joined Democrats in condemning President Trump’s attacks on Christine Blasey Ford during a rally in Mississippi Tuesday night, placing Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation further in doubt. Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to discuss the state of play in Congress, the latest on the FBI investigation and how this battle may influence voters.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump has triggered fresh cries of foul today in the fight over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine:

    The president's comments were just plain wrong.

  • Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.:

    I wish he hadn't have done it. I just say it's — it's kind of appalling.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Trump mocking Brett Kavanaugh's accuser, and key Republican senators outraged.

  • President Donald Trump:

    A man's life is shattered.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Last night in Southaven, Mississippi, Mr. Trump went after Christine Blasey Ford. She said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school.

    The president made fun of Ford's Senate testimony last week with his own sometimes inaccurate version of her memory lapses.

  • President Donald Trump:

    How did you get home? I don't remember. How did 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.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • President Donald Trump:

    I don't know.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president had previously called Ford a — quote — "very credible witness."

    After last night, Ford's lawyer tweeted that the president's words were — quote — "vicious, vile and soulless."

    This morning, Senate Democrats took up the cry.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    President Trump's outright mockery of a sexual assault survivor, riddled as it was with falsehoods, was reprehensible.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.:

    I mean, it was outrageous. There's no other way to describe it.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The attack played especially poorly with undecided Republican, like Alaska's Lisa Murkowski. She called the remarks — quote — "unacceptable."

    But top presidential aides, like White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, defended Mr. Trump's handling of Ford's story.

  • Kellyanne Conway:

    She's been treated like a Faberge egg by all of us, beginning with me and the president.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And this afternoon, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said this several times.

  • Sarah Sanders:

    The president was stating the facts.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Meanwhile, several public senators said the FBI is almost done with the reopened background check of Kavanaugh.

    That's despite complaints from his accusers and Democrats that a number of potential witnesses have not been interviewed, including Christine Blasey Ford herself.

    Democrats are demanding that some version of the FBI findings be made public before the Senate votes on Kavanaugh.

    Delaware Senator and Judiciary Committee member Chris Coons.

  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.:

    But I do think a summary of the report that doesn't identify specific individuals or allegations, but that says, this is how many, this is for our topics, this is the sorts of facts we have presented, I do think, in the interest of transparency, would be appropriate for the FBI or the Senate to release a report like that.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Louisiana Republican and Senate Judiciary Committee member John Kennedy agreed.

  • Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.:

    Normally, FBI background investigations are not made public because of privacy rights of the person being investigated. But I think this is an instance where it should be. I trust the American people to draw their own conclusions.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As both sides wait for the FBI's findings, Capitol Police have stepped up security for senators, including police escorts.

  • Man:

    You have to stay of one side of the hallway. And we have to make sure doors are clear.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Today, police forced reporters away from Susan Collins' office for what they said were safety reasons.

    All the while, Senate debate on the nomination is continuing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said again today he's proceeding toward a vote.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    It's time to put this embarrassing spectacle behind us. The American people are sick of the display that has been put on here in the United States Senate in the guise of a confirmation process.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As of tonight, there's no firm indication of whether Kavanaugh has the votes to win Senate confirmation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche joins me now, along with our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, Yamiche, as you point out in that report, originally, President Trump was respectful of Dr. Ford. He was saying she was a credible — someone who was credible, but then the change of tone last night. He's mocking her.

    What was behind the thinking here?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, this nomination has really become a moment of cultural reckoning.

    And President Trump is responding to how polarized everyone has become. He senses this us-vs.-we mentality, and he's in there last night, and he feels as though he wants to really give the crowd what they're asking for.

    The crowd last night was laughing and clapping as he mocked Dr. Ford, and that's just as important as the president mocking her. And this idea that people are really kind of — especially Republicans are really feeling energized by this is backed up by a new poll that came out today.

    "PBS NewsHour," NPR and Marist put out a poll today. And I want to walk you through some of these numbers. In July 2018, this summer, Democrats had a 10-point lead over Republicans when it came to who thought was — who thought the midterm election was very important.

    So you have this idea that Democrats really felt as though this is really important, but that has all basically evaporated. The poll now shows that 82 percent of Democrats describe the midterms as very important and 80 percent of Republicans also describe the midterms as very important.

    And Democrats, that should be really bad news for them, because Democrats have been talking about this blue wave, talking about taking back the House, even the Senate. And now what you have are Republicans saying, this nomination is why I might go to the polls.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So energizing Republicans.

    But you have been talking to people at the White House. How concerned are they — or are they concerned that this could cost them somehow in the midterms, especially among women voters?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president let loose last night. So the simple answer is, no, they are not concerned about this. Sarah Sanders said that the president was really just stating the facts.

    He's not worried about whether or not Lisa Murkowski or Susan Collins or Jeff Flake are going to look at his comments last night and say, you know what, this has really gotten out of hand and I can't vote for Brett Kavanaugh.

    So the president is really just saying, you know what, I'm going to go with my gut.

    This isn't a large change of strategy, from what I can tell from sourcing. It's really the president looking at this crowd and saying, I'm going to give them what they want.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, Lisa, there's some late-day developments on the part of Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. What are you hearing?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A lot to talk about tonight, but we just saw a letter posted by Dick Durbin. He's the number two Democrat in the Senate.

    And he's on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He posted a letter questioning a tweet by Republicans in which they said that the FBI background checks to this point on Mr. Kavanaugh have come up with not a whiff of any issue related to either inappropriate sexual behavior or with inappropriate behavior with alcohol.

    That's what the Republicans tweeted out. Dick Durbin has said, we reviewed these files confidentially, and that is inaccurate.

    What he's saying is, past FBI background checks have come up with something related to inappropriate behavior, either sexual or alcoholic. But, you know, Judy, this is a classic just tit for tat, and everyone using any kind of weapon they can at this moment as we wait for the FBI report.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, state of play right now, Lisa, I mean, if the FBI continues, doesn't talk to Kavanaugh, doesn't talk to Dr. Ford, what does it look like?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, I can report I spoke just a short while ago from a good Senate Republican Judiciary source, who said they have put no limits on the FBI, the FBI is free to talk to both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, but it's the FBI choice.

    It is possible the FBI will just use the committee testimony as the basis of its report. So, they're saying it's not any limits that they have put on this.

    But I think what Yamiche said is very important. I do not think Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, as much as they don't like what the president said last night, my sourcing is, they're not going to vote based on that.

    So the president's not really taking a risk in ginning up his base. I think that there are bigger questions here about votes. Democrat Joe Manchin came out today and said he is still firmly undecided. Also, his office confirmed to me Chuck Schumer is not really putting pressure on him, maybe because Chuck Schumer realizes a Democratic presence on these undecided votes really might not help them at all.

    And I think we're seeing that most of all. A quick — another figure from the poll, Judy, very quickly, the partisan divide on this question is unbelievable. Do you support or oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh?

    Look at that. Republicans, 88 percent support, but Democrats, 83 percent oppose. That divide is just getting larger.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's hardening.

    Yamiche, Bloomberg News is reporting that the FBI says the reason they're not talking to Brett Kavanaugh, to Dr. Ford is because the White House has told them not to.

    What is the White House saying about that?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The White House is pointing to the Senate and saying that the ball is in their court.

    Sarah Sanders today from the podium at the White House said that the — that they're really taking and deferring all their direction from the Senate.

    The issue with that, of course, is that the FBI is really something that is really an organization, an agency that answers to the White House. It's the White House who can tell the FBI what to do, not the Senate.

    I talked to a lawyer, a Republican lawyer who has gone through vetting judicial nominees for Republicans in the past. That lawyer told me that, in normal times, the Senate would request the FBI to make some sort of an investigation or some sort of supplemental background check.

    And the White House will just pass off that information. In this case there, that really could not be the case. In this case, we're not really in normal times. So it's not beyond doubt that the White House could say, you know, I want the FBI to only look at this and look at that.

    But this lawyer said that it would be very unusual for the White House or the Senate to tell the FBI, do not talk to these two people. That person said, what is really likely happening is that the FBI is making a calculation, saying if we have a week to do this, and there are 40 people who want to talk to us, here are the people that we really need to prioritize.

    All that being said tonight, Dr. Ford's lawyers came out with a letter thing that they will not — that they want the FBI basically to talk to their client, and that they won't give up her therapist notes or her polygraph notes that she took to Senator Grassley, as he's requested, unless the FBI talks to her.

    So, really, her lawyers are pushing for that interview.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fascinating. Fascinating.

    Lisa, just very quickly here at the end, you have been also talking to Republicans about their concerns, and as they intersect with this poll.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yamiche reported that the White House may not be worried about the midterms, but congressional Republicans are.

    And here's why. Let's look at something in this poll about white women. This is a critical vote for Republicans. Remember, a majority of white women voted for President Trump.

    Look at — when asked, do they oppose or support for the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, look at that split. There you see white women, 45 percent oppose this nomination vs. white men, 30 percent.

    And I spoke to members of Congress in the last day who have said they're seeing that gender split in their districts. They're worried about what that means in November. Remember, women turn out more than men at the polls in midterms.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Huh. Wow.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we will be watching that as we get closer to these midterms.

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor following this Kavanaugh story, thank you both.

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