Sen. Tim Scott still backs Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court, but the South Carolina Republican also said he could change his mind.
Scott’s view is markedly different from most other GOP senators, who are not wavering in their support for Kavanaugh as he battles allegations of sexual misconduct — even before they have had a chance to hear sworn testimony from one of his accusers.
“It would be foolish of me to say I am unwilling to be open to changing my mind if something pops up,” Scott told McClatchy on Tuesday. Kavanaugh is scheduled to speak Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside Christine Blasey Ford, a professor accusing the nominee of attempted rape more than three decades ago.
“We should be willing to hear with an open mind the accusations and any evidence or proof that (Ford) has that may not have been presented,” Scott added.
Scott emphasized the allegations alone are not enough to prompt him to reject on Kavanaugh. He pointed out that three people Ford listed as witnesses have refused to corroborate her account that Kavanaugh tried to force himself onto her at a party while they were still in high school.
The senator conceded, however, that Ford’s version of events were “concerning.”
“The allegation itself should cause everyone to stop and pay attention,” he said.
Scott isn’t likely to draw great praise with Democrats or Ford’s allies. For those who view the current debate as a referendum on whether the political environment has evolved since the 1991 — when senators of both parties initially discredited Anita Hill’s testimony that she was sexually harassed by then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas — any lawmaker who hesitates to cast Ford as a credible witness is falling short.
Since Ford came forward with her account over a week ago, another woman has described Kavanaugh exposing himself to her at a party in college. Democratic attorney Michael Avenatti has said he represents a third alleged victim. Only Ford is currently scheduled to testify.
Scott is being exceedingly cautious, even refusing to comment on how his colleagues have navigated the debate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Scott’s fellow South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and other Republican lawmakers have accused Democrats of launching a smear campaign against Kavanaugh.
President Donald Trump has challenged Ford’s credibility directly, saying she would have reported the incident at the time had it taken place despite statistics showing that many sexual assault victims do not immediately go to the authorities. Kavanaugh himself went on Fox News on Monday night to defend himself against the accusers’ allegations, an unprecedented move for a pending Supreme Court nominee.
Pressed on whether the tactics of discrediting Kavanaugh’s accusers risk alienating voters, specifically women, ahead of the midterm elections, Scott said repeatedly, “I’m not going to speak for any of my colleagues on this issue.”
Political observers also know the chances are highly unlikely that Scott actually breaks with his party to oppose Kavanaugh. He is a notoriously careful politician who typically declines to wade into controversies, and unlike Susan Collins, R-Maine or Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska he’s not on any list of “swing” senators being targeted to vote against the nominee.
Still, Scott has shown he will cross leadership — even the president — if and when he feels he must.
Last year, as the Senate’s sole black Republican, Scott stated Trump moral authority was “compromised” after suggesting there was a moral equivalency between the neo-Nazis and counter-protestors who attended a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A few months ago, Scott said he would vote against a candidate for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals who could not answer for racially charged writings from his college years. Scott found other Republican senators to pledge to oppose the judicial nominee as well, and leaders were forced to ask for the nominee’s withdrawal.
At this point, Scott said all he could promise was to watch the Thursday hearing, either live on television or later via recording, and see what happens.
“We’re not going to find innocence or guilt,” he said. “I have not been persuaded based on the fact pattern or information that has come forward thus far, but I am still willing to hear from the accuser and listen for anything that tells me there is a reason to be persuaded otherwise.”