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Sen. Dean Heller defends calling Kavanaugh controversy a 'hiccup'

In a conference call with the Nevada GOP, the vulnerable red state Republican reportedly predicted Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh would be confirmed despite the recent assault allegation.
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) meets with Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh in his office on Capitol Hill July 18, 2018 in Washington, DC.
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) meets with Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh in his office on Capitol Hill on July 18, 2018.Alex Wong / Getty Images file
/ Source: NBC News

WASHINGTON — Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said Thursday that his comment that the issues facing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh over allegations of sexual assault were just a "hiccup" had been misinterpreted.

"No, I do not believe sexual assault allegations of any kind are a hiccup, I was referring to how poorly the Democrats have handled this process and the fact that the Democrats have not worked with the Judiciary Committee Chairman in good faith," he said in a statement released by his Senate office.

"I think it’s important for Dr. Ford to have the opportunity to share her story with the Judiciary Committee in public or private should she choose to do so. As I’ve said before, given the gravity of this appointment and this accusation, I would hope that all Senators, regardless of party, are willing to work with Chairman Grassley in good faith," he added.

Heller, facing a tough reelection campaign against Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., made the original remark on a conference call with the Nevada Republican Party on Wednesday.

“I’m really grateful for the White House, for the effort of President Trump and what he has done, and the excitement that we have," Heller said on the call, according to a report in The Nevada Independent. "We got a little hiccup here with the Kavanaugh nomination, we’ll get through this and we’ll get off to the races.”

The senator's comment came the day before before President Trump was expected to take the stage for a campaign rally with Heller in Las Vegas. The president was also expected to headline a fundraiser for Heller and congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian on Friday.

Heller met with Kavanaugh back in July and expressed his support for the nominee then, saying he had “no reservations in confidently supporting Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation.”

The campaign of Heller’s Democratic challenger, Rep. Jacky Rosen, had attacked Heller’s “hiccup” comment, calling it dismissive of credible sexual assault allegations.

“I hope Senator Heller knows that when he shamelessly dismisses allegations of this magnitude against a nominee seeking a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court, Nevada women are listening," said Rosen spokesperson Molly Forgey. "Make no mistake, we will hold Senator Heller accountable at the ballot box.”

The Cook Political Report rates the Nevada Senate race as a toss-up and recent polling suggests the contest is a statistical tie.