For reasons that confound longtime supporters and women’s groups (which until now have overlapped), Sen. Susan Collins seems bound and determined to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh despite ample grounds for believing he will curtail if not undo existing constitutional protection for women seeking abortions.

“I do not believe he’s going to repeal Roe v. Wade,” she proclaimed Friday on Showtime, which released a clip Monday. (She was also certain that if she voted for the Republicans’ tax plan eviscerating the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, she’d get a vote on her bipartisan reform proposals; she was snookered then, too.)

Maybe Collins feels compelled to disbelieve all available evidence because she wants desperately to stay in her party’s good graces, or likes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, or remembers Kavanaugh favorably from his days in the George W. Bush administration (he worked on judicial appointments; she was one of the gang of 14 that struck a compromise on confirmation of judges). Whatever the reason, she insists to her pro-choice supporters that she is not abandoning them. They vow to go after her hammer and tongs in 2020 if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh. They are exasperated with her unwillingness to be candid about Roe’s prospects with Kavanaugh on the court.

The allegations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh from two women, however, pose a new, knotty problem for Collins. She has said both that Deborah Ramirez and Christine Blasey Ford should have the chance to tell their accounts, yet she has not demanded the most elementary steps if the goal is to find out the truth. So far, she has not insisted on an FBI investigation.

If the Thursday hearing comes along and Ford appears sincere and credible while Kavanaugh insists he didn’t know her, never behaved that way, wasn’t a habitual heavy drinker (his roommate at Yale says Kavanaugh was an excessive drinker) and insists that Mark Judge, a friend from high school days, wasn’t involved in any sexual exploits with him, she’ll have three options: 1) Vote to confirm, incurring the wrath of pro-choice voters, sexual-assault victims’ groups and every Democrat in Maine; 2) Vote against confirmation, risking confrontation (heavens to Betsy!) with her party; or 3) Stick to her original argument that both accusers need to be heard. She doesn’t have to say “yes” or “no,” at least not for some time, if she merely invokes the process used in the Anita Hill matter – an FBI investigation, hearings with multiple witnesses and a full vetting of his record.

Republicans would still have a chance to confirm Kavanaugh – before or after the midterms – if everything checks out. Kavanaugh would have a chance to clear his name, and the credibility of the Senate and the Supreme Court would be protected. Even the White House now concedes that Ramirez should have the chance to testify under oath. That won’t happen if the Senate rushes to a vote Friday or Saturday.

Benjamin Wittes recently wrote in The Atlantic that Kavanaugh should withdraw his nomination to avoid fighting on terms that would do him, the court and the country no good:

“I would tell him he almost certainly should have his nomination withdrawn. The circumstances in which he should fight this out are, in my view, extremely limited. I would advise him against letting Senate Republicans ram his nomination through in a fashion that will forever attach an asterisk to his service on the Supreme Court. Assuming she is not impugning him maliciously, Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, deserves better than that. The court deserves better than that. And Kavanaugh himself, if he is telling the truth about his conduct in high school, deserves better than to be confirmed under circumstances which tens of millions of people will regard, with good reason, as tainted. . . .

“It is possible to imagine his testimony shoring up support among those who want to support him but leaving everyone else with real doubt. This would be, in my view, a disaster for anyone who believes in apolitical courts. And it is not what Kavanaugh should want. Clearing one’s name sufficiently to convince only senators who are already ideologically aligned is not, in fact, clearing one’s name. It’s winning. And while winning may be the highest value for (President) Trump, it isn’t actually the highest value – particularly for a justice.”

Alas, Kavanaugh has already gone down the path – participating in a crass ploy for sympathy on Fox News and sitting idly by (at the very least) as allies cook up conspiracy theories that only reaffirm the view of many Americans that the Supreme Court is filled with political hacks.

His willingness to do this shows an unfortunate lack of concern for the court and overweening ambition of the type that already has corrupted once sober-minded conservatives. His reluctance to take a lie-detector test or to call in the FBI is baffling if he is truly innocent.

That said, if he doesn’t have the wisdom to pull back, get a full vetting and create some grounds for consensus, Collins can force him to do so by insisting on a full investigation.

Surely, she can muster the courage to do just that – and save herself wrath from one side or the other, right?


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