US President Donald Trump says sexual assault allegations against new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh were a “hoax”, pressing on an issue that Republicans have used to energise their voters.
- Mr Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court despite sexual assault allegations
- An entirely ceremonial swearing-in was held for Mr Kavanaugh at the White House
- Mr Trump said the allegations were a hoax set up by Democrats
Mr Kavanaugh returned to the White House for a televised appearance on Monday (local time) with Mr Trump less than a month before pivotal congressional elections.
The entirely ceremonial swearing-in, two days after he officially became a member of the high court, is unusual for new justices.
Mr Trump said Mr Kavanaugh was “caught up in a hoax that was set up by the Democrats”, as he left for a trip to Florida.
“It was all made up, it was fabricated and it’s a disgrace,” he said.
The climactic 50-48 roll call vote on Saturday (local time) on Mr Kavanaugh was the closest vote to confirm a justice since 1881.
Brett Kavanaugh takes the Constitutional Oath with Chief Justice John Roberts as his wife Ashley holds the Bible. (AP: Fred Schilling/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)
It capped a fight that seized the national conversation after claims emerged that Mr Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted women three decades ago. Mr Kavanaugh emphatically denied the allegations.
The accusations transformed the clash from a routine struggle over judicial ideology into an angry jumble of questions about victims’ rights and personal attacks on nominees.
Ultimately, every Democrat voted against Mr Kavanaugh except for Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Kavanaugh was sworn in on Saturday evening in a private ceremony as protesters chanted outside the court building.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday praised his party’s senators, who he said re-established the “presumption of innocence” in confirmation hearings. “We stood up to the mob,” he said.
Mr Trump has now put his stamp on the court with his second justice in as many years. Yet Mr Kavanaugh is joining under a cloud.
Accusations from several women remain under scrutiny, and House Democrats have pledged further investigation if they win the majority in November.
Outside groups are working on an unusually long paper trail from his previous government and political work, with the National Archives and Records Administration expected to release a cache of millions of documents this month.
Still, Democrats senator Chris Coons said he believed it would be premature for his party to talk about re-investigating Mr Kavanaugh or a possible impeachment if it takes control of the chamber, stressing a need to help heal the country.
“Folks who feel very strongly one way or the other about the issues in front of us should get out and vote and participate,” Senator Coons said.
With one confirmation just ended, Senator McConnell also signalled he was willing to take up another high court nomination in the 2020 presidential election season should another vacancy arise.
He tried to distinguish between Mr Trump’s nomination of Mr Kavanaugh this year and his own decision not to have the GOP-run Senate consider president Barack Obama’s high court nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016.
Senator McConnell called the current partisan divide a “low point”, but he blamed Democrats.
“The Senate’s not broken,” Senator McConnell said.
“We didn’t attack Merrick Garland’s background and try to destroy him.”
He asserted that “we simply followed the tradition of America.”
Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, with several seats up for grabs in November. The court’s two oldest justices are Democratic appointees: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and Stephen Breyer is 80.
In his Senate testimony last month in which he denied allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman in high school, accusing Democrats of orchestrating a partisan campaign against him, Mr Kavanaugh had promised that, if he was confirmed, the four clerks working for him would be women.
“I’ll be the first justice in the history of the Supreme Court to have a group of all-women law clerks. That is who I am,” he said.
Republican who voted against Kavanaugh may face reprisals
Alaska Republican party leaders plan to consider whether to reprimand senator Lisa Murkowski for opposing Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation. She was the only Republican who voted against the appointment.
The party has asked Senator Murkowski to provide any information she might want its state central committee to consider.
Party chairman Tuckerman Babcock said the committee could decide to issue a statement. Or he says it could withdraw support of Senator Murkowski, encourage party officials to look for a replacement and ask that she not seek re-election as a Republican.
Senator Murkowski told reporters that if she worried about political repercussions she wouldn’t be able to do the job Alaskans expect her to do.