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What The Kavanaugh Allegation Means


Joining us now with more on this story is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. You might remember that Nina broke the story about sexual harassment allegations against now-Justice Clarence Thomas, which were brought by Anita Hill in 1991. Nina, thanks so much for joining us once again.


MARTIN: So what was supposed to happen with Judge Kavanaugh's nomination this week?

TOTENBERG: Well, it was - there was supposed to be a vote in committee on Thursday at 1:45 in the afternoon Eastern time. The nomination would then be sent to the Senate floor, where it would, in all likelihood, be voted on by the end of next week - the following week.

MARTIN: So following today's report, what are senators saying now about whether Kavanaugh's committee vote should proceed?

TOTENBERG: Well, depends who you ask. Democrats, by and large, are asking for a delay. And they're very specifically asking that the FBI investigate these allegations and provide a report, not just to the White House but to the Senate Judiciary Committee so they can evaluate whether they are truthful, whether - how much evidence there is for it, et cetera. Of course, Democrats don't control the Judiciary Committee - Republicans control the Senate. And they control the Judiciary Committee. And they control the schedule. And so far, there's no indication that Republicans are willing to change the schedule. But Senator Grassley, in a statement today, blasted the Democrats for their 11th-hour allegation - coming forth with these allegations at the 11th hour, and - but did not specifically rule out any sort of delay.

MARTIN: Well, you've already noted that the Republicans control the committee. But are there others who have sway in this process? I guess what I'm asking is, what should we be watching for in the next couple of days?

TOTENBERG: Well, the ultimate person who has sway in this is the Senate Republican leader, the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the chairman of the committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa - and to some extent, the American people. If this has legs, as we say in the journalism business, people are pretty already antsy about the #MeToo movement and scared about it. And women have a lot more power than they used to have. And the womens' vote has a lot more power. So I'm not sure what Democrats or Republicans want to do about an allegation that's more than three decades old, but they can't ignore it.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, you covered the last Supreme Court nominee who was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. How much is this starting to resemble Clarence Thomas' confirmation?

TOTENBERG: You know, in a lot of ways, that was different - many different ways. First of all, the allegations against now-Justice Thomas were only a few years back and involved a woman who had worked for him, Anita Hill. These allegations go back three-and-a-half decades. There - in 1991, there were two women in the Senate, that's all. Today, there are many more, including several on the Judiciary Committee. And that is going to make a world of difference.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Nina Totenberg. Nina, thank you.

TOTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.