In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Two days before Christine Blasey Ford is set to appear in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss her allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh groped her when they were in high school, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) used his floor speech Tuesday to try to dismantle her account.

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A day after making calling the allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh “even more absurd” than the ones Anita Hill made a generation ago against Clarence Thomas, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) is seeking to clean up his remarks — without walking away from his view that the allegations are “absurd.”

“The question I was answering was how the current accusation against Brett Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford compared to the Anita Hill accusation against Clarence Thomas,” Cramer said in a statement to TPM Saturday afternoon. “The point of my answer was that the current allegations were even more absurd. At the time, there was a sense of legitimacy to what Anita Hill was saying, but it is hard not to be skeptical considering the timing and history of the allegation Brett Kavanaugh is facing. Of course, any allegation of this nature should be taken seriously, but absent significant evidence being brought forth immediately, I feel Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation process should proceed.”

Cramer, a top Senate candidate facing Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), doesn’t exactly back away from the thrust of remarks made Friday on a local radio show that Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh are “absurd.” But he steers away from his earlier remarks dismissing her accusations even if they were true “because these people were teenagers” and because “it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere,” in an attempt to walk back his earlier mockery of the details of the claim itself.

His Friday comments, surfaced by TPM and CNN, triggered an immediate firestorm in the political world.

They also drew a sharp rebuke from Heitkamp’s campaign.

“His comments were disturbing and representative of a bigger issue Congressman Cramer has with respecting women and victims of assault or abuse. As a public official elected by the people of our state, he owes North Dakotans answers on his deeply troubling views regarding sexual assault,” Heitkamp campaign manager Libby Schneider said in a Saturday statement. “Regardless of one’s opinion on the Supreme Court nominee, allegations of sexual assault should never be trivialized or diminished – as Congressman Cramer did yesterday. To insinuate that an assault shouldn’t be taken seriously because it ‘never really went anywhere’ is as dangerous as it is offensive. It’s unfortunate that this even needs to be said, but clearly it does – sexual assault is never OK.”

They risk damaging Cramer’s campaign even in the deep red state. The candidate has led Heitkamp in most recent public and private polling, but Democrats hope gaffes like this give her a chance to claw her way back to the lead.

The Senate Judiciary Committee and Ford continue to negotiate on whether and when she’ll testify, though the most recent tentative agreement has her and Kavanaugh up on the hill on Wednesday.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The fight for the House majority is over.

At least that’s the sense from a growing number of Democrats who are increasingly confident in their quest to seize control of at least one chamber of Congress six weeks before Election Day.

The surging optimism among Democrats, usually shared in private, has begun to spill into the open as President Donald Trump’s approval ratings sink and the Republican Party struggles under the weight of the president’s self-imposed political crises and erratic behavior.

“I do believe Democrats will win back the House of Representatives,” said New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Our candidates are in a strong position.”

Democratic confidence is particularly strong among campaign operatives who work closely with women, a critical voting bloc that has turned away from Trump’s GOP in the suburban and exurban districts where the House majority will be won or lost this fall. Polls suggest women are turbocharged and eager to punish Trump’s party as the voting season begins.

“I have all intentions of this institution delivering the U.S. House back for the Democrats,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’S List, an organization that supports female Democrats. “We have the candidates in place to do that and then some.”

But with the shock of Trump’s 2016 victory still fresh, some Democrats are painfully aware that significant factors could emerge in the 45 days before the election that could derail their presumptive success. They’re contending with massive spending by GOP super PACs, competing in gerrymandered congressional districts and are increasingly worried about some key candidates.

That’s leaving some top Democrats warning their party of the dangers of overconfidence.

“This is no time for confidence. This is no time for braggadociousness or bluster,” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

Booker, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential contender, reminded his party of Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss in the last presidential contest: “If there’s any complacency, if there’s any resting on their laurels, we need to go back to how people felt in the early days of November 2016.”

That’s a tough message to push at a time when even Republican campaign professionals publicly and privately acknowledge that conventional metrics for predicting election outcomes favor Democrats.

At this point in President Barack Obama’s first term, Gallup reported the Democrat’s approval rating at least five points higher than Trump’s current 38 percent approval. Obama’s party would go on to lose 63 House seats in 2010.

On top of Trump’s low approval, Republicans this year have also been saddled by more than 40 House retirements, ceding the power of incumbency in several competitive races. And there are continued signs that the Democratic base is far more energized in the early years of the Trump era than the GOP.

“I would never tell a politician to be confident because of how the world changes,” said Republican strategist Rick Tyler. “But by applying those metrics, Democrats should pick up 80 seats.”

Former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile turned heads in a recent interview with ABC when she predicted a Democratic takeover in the Senate. Democrats need to pick up just two seats to claim the Senate majority, but most of the competitive Senate contests this year takes place in a Republican-leaning state.

“We’re confident,” Brazile said. “Not overconfident, but confident that we can run the tables in the Senate.”

Money could complicate Democrats’ plans.

While Democratic House candidates are outraising their GOP competitors in many cases, Republicans are expected to win the larger spending battle largely because of their reliance on Super PACs that can raise unlimited sums of money.

Schriock said EMILY’S List expects to spend $37 million to influence the election, outpacing its investment in the last presidential contest. On the other side, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC allied with House Speaker Paul Ryan, expects to spend roughly $100 million.

Already, the Republican powerhouse has committed more than $70 million to shape the House landscape, primarily by running attack ads to put Democratic candidates on defense as the midterm season moves into its final weeks.

In Minnesota, which began early voting on Friday , Ryan’s super PAC is dumping $8 million into an advertising campaign targeting two congressional districts. They include the 8th district, where 32-year-old former Democratic state Rep. Joe Radinovich faced charges that “he’s spent his life running from the law” in a recent ad that cites multiple traffic violations.

Radinovich’s campaign called the claims “egregious” and “disgraceful,” saying it falsely portrayed unpaid parking tickets as crimes and misrepresents a marijuana-related citation that the Democrat received as a teen.

Fair or not, the Republican attacks are jeopardizing an open seat in a Democratic-leaning state.

It’s not the only one.

Democrats are struggling for traction in a series of contests that should be prime pickup opportunities — on paper, at least. Polling suggests several vulnerable Republicans in swing districts are performing better than expected, a list that includes Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, Will Hurd of Texas, and John Katko of New York.

And in Florida’s 27th district, a heavily Hispanic open seat in Miami, former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala is locked in a surprisingly close contest with Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a well-known Hispanic television reporter.

But don’t relay those concerns to the people who lined up for hours outside Philadelphia’s Dell Music Center on Friday to see Obama rally Democratic voters in a pivotal swing state.

Della Jamison, a 65-year-old Democrat from North Philadelphia, was exuberant about her party’s chances when asked. In Pennsylvania alone, Democrats envision flipping a half dozen House seats.

“We are on the battlefield, baby,” Jamison said. “It’s already done.”
Peoples reported from New York. AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) granted a Saturday extension for attorneys of the woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of attempted sexual assault to settle on the terms of her tetimony.

In a series of late Friday night tweets, Grassley said that Christine Blasey Ford “shld decide so we can move on.”

The Republican leader appeared irritated by the delays, saying he feels like he’s “playing 2nd trombone in the judiciary orchestra and [Democratic Sen. Chuck] Schumer is the conductor.”

According to the New York Times, Grassley’s office told Ford’s lawyers they “absolutely must hear by 2:30 p.m.” that Ford will comply with their terms for testifying.

Ford’s attorneys have accused Senate Republicans including Grassley of pressuring their client and setting artificially tight deadlines.

Ford has alleged that Kavanaugh held her down and tried to forcibly remove her clothing while intoxicated at a high school party. Kavanaugh has categorically denied doing so.

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Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), the GOP Senate nominee, said Friday that giving credence to allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a young woman when they were teenagers is “absurd.”

Cramer sounded off on professor Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that Brett Kavanaugh drunkenly sexually assaulted her when she was 15 and he was 17 during a radio interview, describing them as “even more absurd” than Anita Hill’s accusations that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her because of Kavanaugh’s age at the time and because it was “an attempt or something that never went anywhere.”

“This case is even more absurd because these people were teenagers when this supposed, alleged incident took place. Teenagers. Not a boss, supervisor-subordinate situation as the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill situation was claimed to be,” he said during an appearance on KNOX. “These are teenagers who evidently were drunk according to her own, her own statements. They were drunk when it evidently happened… even by her own accusation. Again, it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere. So you just have to wonder.”

Cramer’s comments could hurt him as he seeks to defeat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) this fall. Strategists in both parties believe Cramer currently leads in the race, making him the Republican candidate most likely to become a senator next term in Congress, but Democrats believe Heitkamp is still within striking distance. Heitkamp has yet to say how she’ll vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Cramer’s comments also make him the latest high-profile Republican to shrug off Blasey Ford’s claims of sexual assault due to Kavanaugh’s age when the alleged assault took place, and minimize the severity of what he is accused of doing — what Blasey Ford’s attorney said she believes was “attempted rape.”

President Trump himself took to Twitter on Friday morning to question why she hadn’t reported the incident to the police at the time that it happened. Other Republicans have gone even further, including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who rolled his eyes at the accusation because the alleged incident occurred when they were in high school, and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), who joked that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had accused President Abraham Lincoln of groping her.

Setting everything else he said aside, Cramer’s description of Blasey Ford’s accusations are factually incorrect. She told the Washington Post last Sunday that Kavanaugh and his friend who was in the room with them were “stumbling drunk” but that she and the others at the party had one beer apiece.

Cramer’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on his remarks.

Heitkamp took a dim view of her opponent’s comments.

“Congressman Cramer’s comments are disturbing and they don’t reflect the values of North Dakota,” she said in a statement to TPM Friday evening.

Here’s the audio of what Cramer said — the quoted remarks start at around 4 minutes and 30 seconds in, though it’s worth listening to his full comments.

Here is his full quote, after being asked about former Vice President Joe Biden’s recent apology for how he handled the Anita Hill hearings in 1991:

“I suspect what he means is that we should never have let Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court like we did. Thank God they did because what an incredible man of justice and character and and you know, a testimony to the, to the American dream. This wonderful minority black man with a brilliant mind and an incredible background. What an incredible testimony he’s been to the resilience of the American spirit. So if that’s what he means yeah, great point. They shouldn’t have done what they did. But I would even say this, this is where this one’s different. If to the degree there was a legitimacy to Anita Hill’s claims, and she tried and didn’t prevail, Clarence Thomas did and America did. This case is even more absurd because these people were teenagers when this supposed, alleged incident took place. Teenagers. Not a boss, supervisor-subordinate situation as the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill situation was claimed to be. These are teenagers who evidently were drunk according to her own, her own statements. They were drunk when it evidently happened… even by her own accusation. Again, it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere. So you just have to wonder. Here’s what I worry about and maybe this could be my final word on unless you have another question, but what I worry about is why would any good person ever put themselves forward to be a judge an Appellate Court Judge, Supreme Court justice, frankly a member of Congress or the United States Senate, the governor, anything else, if this is the new standard, you know, roll out an accusation that, that no one else can corroborate and we believe the accuser without appropriate due process, it’s going to get it very difficult to get good people to do these jobs. It’s going to be the standard if you have to have a perfect record in junior high and high school.”

This story was updated at 9:10 p.m. to include Heitkamp’s response.

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