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Monday's Kavanaugh-Ford hearing presents peril for both parties

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: President Trump and his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh talk at announcement event in East Room of the White House in Washington
Pres. Donald Trump and his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh talk during an announcement event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 9, 2018.JIM BOURG / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee now will hold a public hearing on Monday allowing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman accusing him, Christine Blasey Ford, to testify, and it presents political peril for both parties — with an election just seven weeks away.

The danger for Republicans is that, in what’s already billed as another “Year of the Woman” (with fired-up female voters and a record number of female candidates), there is not a single Republican woman who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, compared with four female Democrats. Another danger for the GOP was Kavanaugh’s shaky original performance before the committee (compare and contrast his testimony versus Neil Gorsuch’s a year ago). And then there’s President Trump, who could pour gasoline on this fire at any time (though he was remarkably restrained yesterday).

The peril for Democrats is that brass-knuckled fights over the culture wars have traditionally benefited the Republican Party, and that few issues fire up conservatives more than the courts. What’s more, a Kavanaugh vs. Christine Blasey Ford spectacle presents a level of unpredictability in an election season where Democrats currently have the advantage.

Given this danger for both parties, we wouldn’t be surprised if this hearing never happens — because Kavanaugh ultimately withdraws his nomination. He survived yesterday. But does he survive today? Or tomorrow? Or Thursday? Or Friday?

It was just 13 years ago when the George W. Bush White House — where Kavanaugh once worked — pulled the plug on Harriet Miers’s Supreme Court nomination. And with whom did Bush and Republicans ultimately end up? Answer: Samuel Alito, who’s proved to be a reliable conservative on the Supreme Court.

Another jaw-dropping moment for the Trump Era

What’s remarkable about Brett Kavanaugh vs. Christine Blasey Ford is its similarity to Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill back in 1991. And it’s just the latest once-in-a-presidency moment or once-in-a-generation storyline that has played out in Donald Trump’s presidency, which isn’t even two years old yet.

Think about it:

  • A Supreme Court nomination derailed by an accusation from a woman (a la Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill from 1991)
  • A special counsel investigating the president of the United States (like what happened during the Nixon and Clinton years)
  • A hurricane that killed thousands, either directly or indirectly (a la Hurricane Katrina)
  • An ethics scandal rocking the president’s cabinet (the latest allegation is against Trump’s FEMA director)
  • A military raid gone wrong (remember the raid in Yemen, or what happened in Niger?)
  • A tell-all book that’s embarrassing to the White House (Bob Woodward’s is the latest for Team Trump).

And Anita Hill pens an op-ed in the New York Times. “Today, the public expects better from our government than we got in 1991, when our representatives performed in ways that gave employers permission to mishandle workplace harassment complaints throughout the following decades. That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement.”

In unprecedented move, Trump declassifies documents related to the Russia investigation

And speaking of more jaw-dropping moments for this White House… “In an unprecedented move that stunned current and former intelligence officials, President Donald Trump on Monday ordered the public release of highly classified documents and text messages related to the FBI investigation into whether his campaign conspired with Russia,” NBC’s Ken Dilanian and Mike Memoli report.

“Trump also ordered the agencies to publicly release, in full, all text messages relating to the Russia investigation of former FBI Director James Comey, Former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, and current Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr, a Russian organized crime expert. Those are all people Trump has criticized as out to get him. All had Top Secret clearances granting them access to sensitive government secrets.”

Said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., in a statement: "President Trump, in a clear abuse of power, has decided to intervene in a pending law enforcement investigation by ordering the selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team and thinks will advance a false narrative.”

Trump administration to cap the number of refugees it admits to lowest level in four decades

“The Trump administration announced Monday that it would limit the number of refugees admitted into the United States in the next fiscal year to 30,000, the lowest number in more than 38 years,” NBC’s Julia Ainsley, Abigail Williams and Dan De Luce write. “For this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, the Trump administration's cap was 45,000 — the lowest number set since the State Department data began keeping refugee data back to 1980. Even then, the U.S. did not meet the ceiling this year and only admitted about 21,000.”

RNC poll: Republicans and Trump voters don’t believe Democrats will back the House

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Josh Green gets his hand on a Republican National Committee poll, which finds that half of self-identified Republicans “don’t believe Democrats are likely to win back the House. And within that group, 57 percent of people who describe themselves as strong Trump supporters don’t believe Democrats have a chance (37 percent believe they do).”

Why is this significant? “If overconfident Republican voters stay home, Democrats could win a landslide. The report urges GOP officials to yank their voters back to reality: ‘We need to make real the threat that Democrats have a good shot of winning control of Congress.’”

The poll’s generic ballot shows a Democratic candidate leading a Republican candidate by 9 points.

Yes, voting for the 2018 midterms begins on Friday

We are now 49 days — exactly seven weeks — away from Election Day 2018. But here’s an important reminder: Actual voting for the general election begins this Friday, when Minnesota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming all begin absentee or early voting. And New Jersey goes on Saturday.

Below are the first states that will begin voting, and here’s a full calendar via NBC’s Hannah Coulter:

Friday, September 21

Minnesota: In-person absentee voting begins (Ends November 5)

Offers no-excuse absentee voting

South Dakota: In-person absentee voting begins (Ends November 5)

Offers no-excuse absentee voting

Vermont: In-person absentee voting begins (Ends November 5)

Offers no-excuse absentee voting

Wyoming: In-person absentee voting begins (Ends November 5)

Offers no-excuse absentee voting

Saturday, September 22

New Jersey: In-person absentee voting begins (Ends November 5)

Offers no-excuse absentee voting

Thursday, September 27

Illinois: Early voting begins (Ends November 5)

Offers no-excuse absentee voting

Monday, October 8

California: Early voting begins (Ends November 5)

Beginning date varies by county

Offers no-excuse absentee voting

Iowa: In-person absentee voting begins (Ends November 5)

Offers no-excuse absentee voting