The great psychodrama playing out in the Senate this week over the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has riveted Washington. The revelation of a psychologist in California alleging that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both teenagers in suburban Maryland now threatens to derail the judge's confirmation. We don't yet know whether the accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, will appear at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for Monday. Initially, she agreed to testify and said what she was seeking was a chance to be heard. Kavanaugh has agreed to come before the committee and testify under oath about the alleged incident. Democrats, however, have said that the hearing itself is premature, should follow an investigation into Ford's allegations and should include other witnesses. The Republican leadership says the nomination will go forward to a vote, with or without Ford's testimony.
As usual these days, both sides have dug in. The Democrats want to delay the confirmation -- for partisan as well as substantive reasons. Republicans want Kavanaugh in place by the time the Supreme Court's new session begins on Oct. 1. Republicans say they are accommodating Ford by agreeing to have her testify under whatever circumstances she chooses, including allowing her to do so in private and in California. They claim they aren't trying to shut her up or ignore her serious allegations; they also want to be fair to Kavanaugh and move his nomination along for a vote.
Democrats ask what the hurry is. But they know that delaying the vote and dragging out the process will allow them to continue beating up Kavanaugh and maybe make his confirmation less likely. What's more, they are not anxious to see any Donald Trump appointment to the Supreme Court and are relishing the opportunity to get payback for the Republicans' refusal to allow a vote on President Obama's unconfirmed nominee to the court, Merrick Garland.
Both sides are doing themselves a disservice. Republicans should welcome the FBI reopening its background check on Kavanaugh. It doesn't have to take long; a matter of days should be sufficient time to track down classmates and take statements that either corroborate or query Ford's recollection. Far better for Republicans to be able to say that we took these allegations seriously, checked them out and didn't find evidence to support them than to leave unanswered questions about Kavanaugh's fitness to serve. The committee should also compel testimony from Kavanaugh's friend Mark Judge, who Ford says was in the room when the purported incident took place. Judge has already said he didn't witness any such behavior -- let him say so under oath.
But Democrats are also trying to turn this into a litmus test on whether Republicans are sufficiently sensitive to sexual assault and harassment. But they, too, should be careful. We are asked to assume the truthfulness and accuracy of Ford's memories without yet knowing the circumstances under which she revealed these memories nor much about the memories themselves. Did she know Kavanaugh and his friend before the party in question? Did she know their names? Did she know at the time the attack allegedly took place who her attacker was? If not, when did she come to believe it was Kavanaugh? Did she mention anything about the incident to anyone before she entered therapy with her husband some three decades later? What exactly did she tell the therapist and her husband? Did the therapist play any role in eliciting these memories or were they recalled spontaneously by Ford? Unless Ford answers these and other questions, we cannot accurately judge whether she is a credible source -- no matter how much many want to believe her.
Ford's supporters and the Democrats go too far, however, when they insist this confirmation hearing include panels on sexual abuse and assault in general. This confirmation is not about the larger problem of sexual assault in our society, the #MeToo movement notwithstanding. This hearing is about whether Kavanaugh is fit for a seat on the Supreme Court based on his qualifications and his character. A follow-up FBI background check would give us valuable insight into the latter. But the ultimate test will be Brett Kavanaugh's own testimony and those of the other two people who were supposedly in the room on the night in question. At the end of the day, senators should make their judgments on the basis of what we learn if and when all parties testify.