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The Kavanaugh-Ford hearing will be a painful spectacle. It never had to happen.

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: Brett Kavanaugh
President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh departs during a break in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Sept. 6, 2018, for the third day of his confirmation hearing to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy.Alex Brandon / AP file

WASHINGTON — In this Trump Era, it’s a rare occurrence for any one story to dominate the political news for nearly two whole weeks. But here we are: 12 straight days of Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations — followed by two other women later stepping forward — against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, all capped by today’s extraordinary hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And today’s painful spectacle didn’t have to happen. At any moment, especially after the second accusation by Deborah Ramirez, President Trump could have thrown in the towel on Kavanaugh and nominated one of his other finalists to serve on the nation’s highest court (Thomas Hardiman or Raymond Kethledge).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who called on Al Franken to resign after multiple groping accusations him — could have pulled the plug and told Trump and fellow GOP senators that time would be better served trying to confirm a different nominee before November’s elections, when Democrats have about a 40 percent chance of winning control of the Senate. “McConnell and his leadership team have decided that surrendering on Kavanaugh would infuriate the conservative base and make the November midterm elections more painful, deflating turnout among their most loyal voters,” the Washington Post’s Paul Kane writes.

And at any point over the last 12 days, especially before he went on Fox News (of all places) to defend himself, Kavanaugh could have said this entire spectacle wasn’t worth it — for his wife, for his family, and for institution of the Supreme Court itself. Because although Kavanaugh maintains he’s innocent of the allegations against him, the entire episode has stained any future service on the court. (Indeed, Democrats say that if Kavanaugh is confirmed and if they win the Senate the November, they’ll continue to investigate the accusations against him.)

Democrats, of course, aren’t free of blame here, either. They had information about Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh well before that Washington Post article — which led many Republicans to see the accusation more as a last-minute effort to sink the nomination rather than as a legitimate matter to investigate.

But no matter who’s to blame, today is an embarrassment for American politics, Washington and the Supreme Court — the escalating judicial wars got us to this point. And today didn’t have to happen.

What you need to know about today’s hearing

NBC’s Rebecca Shabad: “The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. ET on Thursday... The hearing, which will be held in an open session, will take place on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in the Dirksen Senate Office Building... Christine Blasey Ford will be the first witness to testify Thursday about the experience she described in a letter to Democratic lawmakers in July and in a recent interview with The Washington Post... Kavanaugh, 53, nominated by President Donald Trump in July to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by Justice Anthony Kennedy, will respond to Ford’s claims in follow-up testimony before the Judiciary Committee... Republicans on the committee have hired Rachel Mitchell, an experienced sex crimes prosecutor in Maricopa County, Arizona, to serve as nomination investigation counsel and ask questions on their behalf, but GOP senators could still raise their own questions, too.”

Christine Blasey Ford’s opening statement: “I believed he was going to rape me”

“Christine Blasey Ford plans to tell Congress on Thursday that she believes Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were at a gathering of teenagers at a Maryland home in 1982, according to her prepared testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday evening,” per NBC News. “In her opening remarks, she plans to detail the alleged assault, as well as offer to the committee her motivation for coming forward. According to her statement, she will say she had one beer that evening while Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, who she alleges witnessed the attack, were ‘visibly drunk.’”

“‘Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time because he was so drunk, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit under my clothes," Ford is expected to say, after describing how she was pushed into a bedroom on the second floor of the home. ‘I believed he was going to rape me.’”

Brett Kavanaugh’s opening statement: "I categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation against me”

And here is what Kavanaugh is expected to say from his prepared opening remarks: “‘I categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation against me by Dr. Ford," he's expected to say… ‘I never had any sexual or physical encounter of any kind with Dr. Ford. I am not questioning that Dr. Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time. But I have never done that to her or to anyone. I am innocent of this charge.’”

“He's also expected to say that during high school, most of his focus was on ‘academics, sports, church, and service.’ ‘But I was not perfect in those days, just as I am not perfect today,’ he is expected to add. ‘I drank beer with my friends, usually on weekends. Sometimes I had too many. In retrospect, I said and did things in high school that make me cringe now. But that’s not why we are here today. What I’ve been accused of is far more serious than juvenile misbehavior. I never did anything remotely resembling what Dr. Ford describes.’”

Trump’s “remarkable and rambling 83-minute news conference”

The good news for President Trump and his White House is that yesterday’s hour-plus news conference has a shelf life of just 12 hours — due to today’s spectacle in Washington.

“President Trump complained on Wednesday that ‘evil people,’ including women in search of fame and fortune, routinely fabricate sexual assault charges against powerful men, and argued that his own experience with such allegations makes him more skeptical of the accusations threatening to bring down Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, his nominee for the Supreme Court,” the New York Times says.

“In a remarkable and rambling 83-minute news conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Trump was by turns combative, humorous and boastful. He defended Judge Kavanaugh and railed against what he called the ‘big, fat con job’ that he said Democrats were perpetrating to derail the nomination, even as he suggested he could still jettison his pick depending on the outcome of a high-profile hearing on Thursday.”

A wrap of last night’s Tim Kaine-Corey Stewart debate

NBC’s Ben Kamisar: “Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and Republican Corey Stewart displayed deep divisions over the sexual assault allegations facing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as they locked horns Wednesday night during a fiery Virginia Senate debate. Sharing the stage at an NBC4 Washington debate moderated by NBC News political director and ‘Meet the Press’ moderator Chuck Todd, Kaine called on the Senate to subpoena witnesses and hear testimony from all of Kavanaugh's accusers.”

“Stewart dodged his previous criticism of an accuser to argue that the Senate's poor record on investigating its own sexual harassment allegations makes them hypocrites… Kaine criticized Stewart for that framing, pointing to his comments to the Richmond Times-Dispatch calling the allegation levied by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh assaulted her while they were high school students decades ago ‘a bunch of crap.’”