WASHINGTON — A wave of Democratic presidential contenders called for impeaching Brett Kavanaugh after a new sexual misconduct allegation against the Supreme Court justice was reported this weekend, but Democrats in Congress are not following their lead.
Lawmakers are following a more conservative approach: fighting for more background documents on Kavanaugh and grilling the FBI over its limited investigation.
“The same Senate that confirmed Kavanaugh is unlikely to remove him,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, a member of the Judiciary Committee that oversaw Kavanaugh’s nomination.
On Saturday the New York Times reported that a former university classmate claims he saw Brett Kavanaugh push his penis into the hands of a woman during a drunken dorm party. The Times later updated the story to say the woman involved in the alleged incident told friends she has no memory of it and that the reporters did not speak to her or to the classmate who reported the alleged incident to Congress and the FBI.
The report, an excerpt from a forthcoming book on Kavanaugh, also revealed that seven people could corroborate a sexual misconduct allegation made by Deborah Ramirez, who had accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct during his nomination process. Presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, who still serve in the Senate, called for Kavanaugh to be impeached, as did Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro. Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono also said Kavanaugh should be impeached.
Swing-vote senators who supported Kavanaugh, such as Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, haven’t changed their minds.
“It’s an election year, and everybody is in a hyper position here,” said Manchin about the impeachment calls. “This is a very toxic atmosphere that we’re in. Nothing surprises me.”
Instead, Democrats in Congress are focusing their attention on what they see as a shoddy FBI investigation. The FBI conducted a last-minute background check into Kavanaugh in 2018 when his nomination was in peril. Kavanaugh was ultimately confirmed in the narrowest vote on a Supreme Court nomination in 137 years.
But the FBI did not interview some of Kavanaugh’s accusers, including Christine Blasey Ford, or several possible corroborating witnesses. The scope of the investigation was dictated by the Trump White House and the Republican-led committee; Democrats insist it was a sham. The report, which was confidential, was read by senators, but has not been released publicly.
“The FBI did not do the investigations that we had hoped they would do,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Richard Blumenthal went further, saying “the FBI was straitjacketed.”
Jerry Nadler, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said he will question FBI Director Christopher Wray about the investigation when Wray appears before the committee next month. Nadler says the committee wants to know if the FBI was restricted by the White House or outside political pressures.
The committee is also in the middle of its investigation into Trump. "We have our hands full with impeaching the president right now, and that’s going to take up our limited resources and time for a while," Nadler told WNYC on Monday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not comment Monday on whether House Democrats would support an impeachment investigation into Kavanaugh.
One House Democratic aide said the party is keeping an eye on the “Kavanaugh circus” but are focused on gun control.
Still, some progressive Democrats are pushing forward with calls to impeach Kavanaugh. Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a member of "the Squad," said she plans to introduce a resolution on Tuesday to open an impeachment investigation into Kavanaugh. “I believe Christine Blasey Ford. I believe Deborah Ramirez. It is our responsibility to collectively affirm the dignity and humanity of survivors,” Pressley said, according to WBUR.
The House will not get any help from the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said the new allegations against Kavanaugh were ridiculous.
“I think [Democrats] continue to try to destroy Judge Kavanaugh’s life,” he said. “It’s going to blow up in their face, I hope. I feel bad for Brett and his family because this whole process is unseemly.”
The House Judiciary Committee has also restarted a background investigation into Kavanaugh by asking the National Archives and Records Administration for thousands of pages of documents relating to Kavanaugh’s work in the George W. Bush administration.
Senate Democrats were fighting to obtain these documents, but the Archives has a policy of only taking direction from committee chairs. When Democrats won back the House in 2018, Nadler gained the power to direct the Archives to reopen its search. But given potential claims of executive privilege over the documents, the matter will likely end up before the courts before anything is released.
This story has been updated to correct attribution for the House Democratic aide.