WASHINGTON – Republicans mounted a combative, coordinated drive Monday to salvage Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination as they fought to keep a second woman's allegation of long-ago sexual misconduct from derailing his confirmation. President Donald Trump leapt to his defense, the Senate's top Republican accused Democrats of a "smear campaign" and an emotional Kavanaugh declared, "I'm not going anywhere."
In the run-up to an appearance by Kavanaugh and his main accuser at a dramatic Senate hearing, Republicans embraced their newly aggressive stance with his nomination dangling precariously. The similar tones and wording they used suggested a concerted effort to undermine the women's claims, portray an image of unity among GOP senators and press ahead to a confirmation vote.
Trump called the accusations "totally political" and among "the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell angrily accused Democrats of slinging "all the mud they could manufacture."
Unintimidated, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, retorted, "If you really believe they are a smear job, why don't you call for an FBI investigation?" Schumer accused the Republicans of "a rush job to avoid the truth."
Trump has made clear he won't order an FBI investigation.
And McConnell said that Thursday's Judiciary Committee hearing would proceed and that full Senate consideration would follow "in the near future," though he mentioned no date.
In a letter to the committee, which plans the climactic hearing featuring Kavanaugh and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, the nominee accused his opponents of launching "smears, pure and simple."
In an unusual strategy for a Supreme Court nominee, Kavanaugh, 53, now a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, also sat for an interview along with his wife late Monday on the Fox News Channel.
Careful not to assail Ford but firm in his denial, he said, "I am not questioning and have not questioned that perhaps Dr. Ford at some point in her life was sexually assaulted by someone at some place, but what I know is I've never sexually assaulted anyone."
"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 my integrity, my lifelong record," he said in the interview. "My lifelong record of promoting dignity and equality for women starting with the women who knew me when I was 14 years old. I'm not going anywhere."
On Sunday, the New Yorker magazine reported that Deborah Ramirez described a 1980s alcohol-heavy Yale dormitory party at which she said Kavanaugh exposed himself.
Despite the forceful rhetoric by Kavanaugh and his GOP supporters, it remained unclear how three moderate Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Arizona's Jeff Flake and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski — would react to the latest accusation. With the GOP's Senate control hanging on a razor-thin 51-49 margin, defections by any two Republican senators would seal his fate if all Democrats vote "no."
Proceeding with Kavanaugh seems to give Republicans their best shot at filling the Supreme Court vacancy — and giving the court an increasingly conservative tilt — before November's elections, when the GOP's Senate control is in play.