MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Republican leaders are rallying around Judge Brett Kavanaugh the day after a second sexual misconduct allegation surfaced in a New Yorker article. Speaking on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the allegations against Kavanaugh amount to a smear campaign.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: This fine nominee to the Supreme Court will receive a vote in this Senate in the near future.
KELLY: This comes as Kavanaugh goes public for the first time since the allegations were made against him. He spoke to Fox News, and he also sent a letter to Senate leaders. NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow is tracking all of this from Capitol Hill. Hey there, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So start with the Fox News interview. What's Kavanaugh have to say?
DETROW: He was pretty defiant. He says he's never sexually assaulted anyone, that he wasn't at this party. And as for his nomination, Kavanaugh said, I'm not going anywhere.
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BRETT KAVANAUGH: I'm not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process. And we're looking for a fair process where I can be heard and defend the - my integrity, my lifelong record of promoting dignity and equality for women, starting with the women who knew me when I was 14 years old.
DETROW: And in a letter to the Judiciary Committee, he called these allegations, quote, "smears, pure and simple." He's saying they're meant to derail his confirmation.
KELLY: Meanwhile, though, as I mentioned, we have this second allegation, a second woman who has come forward. How's that playing where you are on Capitol Hill?
DETROW: As is the case with so much of what we cover, there's a real divide between the parties. Democrats are saying Deborah Ramirez's claim that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her in college is very serious, that Thursday's hearing should be delayed so it can be investigated. But interestingly, a lot of Republicans are outright dismissing it, being much more skeptical of it than Christine Blasey Ford's allegation. Orrin Hatch even called it phony.
KELLY: So has it changed the dynamic at all from what you can see? Is it making his confirmation any more likely, less likely?
DETROW: You know, if anything, a lot of Republicans sound even more determined than ever to support and confirm Kavanaugh. This time last week, Republicans were saying that Ford deserved to be heard, that her allegations are serious. Today, Mitch McConnell and other Republicans are dismissing both claims as unsubstantiated and designed to slow down or stop Kavanaugh's confirmation. Mirroring Kavanaugh, McConnell on the Senate floor today called the allegations a smear campaign.
Now we're hearing there could be a committee vote on his confirmation as soon as the end of the week, and that's hard to square with Republican promises that they want to hear what Ford has to say, that they want a fair hearing. But we've said all along that a couple of key senators will determine what happens given that Republicans hold such a narrow majority. One of them, Susan Collins, did say today that she does think the Judiciary Committee should reach out to Ramirez and talk to her under oath. So that's worth pointing out.
KELLY: All right. And meanwhile, the hearing that has been set is scheduled to go ahead for Thursday. Both Ford and Kavanaugh are set to testify. And I - before I let you go, I want to mention another letter. This is one that Ford sent to Senator Grassley. It was made public today. What did it say?
DETROW: Yeah, this weekend she wrote Grassley that the assault that she described, quote, "while many years ago, it was serious and has had a lasting impact on my life." And she also wrote, the decision to report it was a very difficult one, but I felt that this was something that a citizen couldn't not do. And Grassley wrote her back, saying that he wants to hear from her. He wants to have a credible and fair process. But as we've been saying, that's kind of tough to square with Republicans promising a committee vote soon and a full floor vote very soon as well and basically all but saying, we're going to get Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.
KELLY: All right, thanks, Scott.
DETROW: Thank you.
KELLY: NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.