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Second accusation against Kavanaugh puts his confirmation in real jeopardy

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  is sworn-in before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is sworn-in at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 4, 2018.Andrew Harnik / AP file

WASHINGTON — When the first allegation of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh — by Christine Blasey Ford — first surfaced a week ago, Ford’s husband said why the allegation mattered, even if it was from 35 years ago.

“I think you look to judges to be the arbiters of right and wrong,” Russell Ford told The Washington Post. “If they don’t have a moral code of their own to determine right from wrong, then that’s a problem. So I think it’s relevant. Supreme Court nominees should be held to a higher standard.”

It is that “higher standard” for Supreme Court nominees that puts Kavanaugh’s confirmation in real jeopardy, especially now that there’s a SECOND accusation against him. The New Yorker:

“The woman at the center of the story, Deborah Ramirez, who is fifty-three, attended Yale with Kavanaugh, where she studied sociology and psychology. Later, she spent years working for an organization that supports victims of domestic violence. The New Yorker contacted Ramirez after learning of her possible involvement in an incident involving Kavanaugh. The allegation was conveyed to Democratic senators by a civil-rights lawyer.

For Ramirez, the sudden attention has been unwelcome, and prompted difficult choices. She was at first hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident. In her initial conversations with The New Yorker, she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty. After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his [genitalia] in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away. Ramirez is now calling for the F.B.I. to investigate Kavanaugh’s role in the incident. ‘I would think an F.B.I. investigation would be warranted,’ she said.”

Kavanaugh denies the allegation. “This alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen,” he says. “The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple.” And there are plenty of caveats about this new accusation: It was initially made to Democratic senators; Ramirez admits gaps in her memory; she’s a registered Democrat (but says her decision to speak wasn’t politically motivated).

Still, as we learned from the accusations against Al Franken, one allegation is a big problem. Two or more become deadly, because there’s always the threat of yet another accusation.

And that brings us back to that “higher standard” for Supreme Court nominees — with the Senate Judiciary Committee set to hear from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday. These aren’t allegations against a sitting U.S. senator (like Franken) or someone running for office whom voters can reject (like Keith Ellison). They’re against someone picked for a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Given that higher standard, as well as the lesson from Franken, it’s increasingly likely that Kavanaugh’s chances of getting 51 votes are over. We just don’t know how this ends. Does Kavanaugh withdraw? Does Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signal that the votes aren’t there — to give Trump and the GOP enough time to name a new nominee? Or is there enough time?

The Trump White House stands behind Kavanaugh

A White House official tells NBC’s Kristen Welker that there are no plans to withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination. This official says President Trump finds decades-old uncorroborated allegations to be something that the White House and Kavanaugh should fight back against.

A source familiar with the confirmation process added to NBC’s Peter Alexander that Trump had two conversations Sunday about the latest Kavanaugh allegation — before it became public. The president expressed no change in his views about Judge Kavanaugh, the source said.

But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday’s Kavanaugh-Ford hearing should be postponed in light of this second against the Supreme Court nominee. “Thursday's hearing should be canceled in light of a disturbing new allegation of sexual misconduct against Brett Kavanaugh. The FBI must investigate ALL allegations,” she tweeted, per NBC’s Frank Thorp.

NBC/WSJ poll: Six weeks out, Dems have the midterm advantage

Here’s our write-up of the full NBC/WSJ poll that was released yesterday: “52 percent of registered voters say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 40 percent who want the Republicans in charge. That 12-point lead for Democrats — their highest of the cycle in the poll — is an increase from August, when they held an 8-point edge, 50 percent to 42 percent, although the change is within the survey’s margin of error.”

“Among the voters who are most likely to vote — the first time the NBC/WSJ poll has measured these voters for the 2018 elections — the Democrats’ advantage falls to 8 points, 51 percent to 43 percent.”

“In the larger pool of registered voters, McInturff points to warning signs for Republicans. They trail Democrats among moderates and independents by more than 30 points; they’re losing women ages 50 and older by nearly 20 points; and they’re behind among voters living in competitive congressional districts by 12 points, 53 percent to 41 percent.”

But GOP catches up in enthusiasm, the poll finds

More from our poll: “The good news for Republicans in the NBC/WSJ poll is that they’ve caught up to Democrats on enthusiasm about the upcoming midterm elections. Sixty-five percent of registered Democrats say they’re very interested in the midterms — registering either a ‘9’ or ‘10’ on a 10-point scale — compared with 61 percent of Republicans who say the same thing. That narrow 4-point advantage for Democrats is down from their leads of 11 points in August (63 percent to 52 percent) and 16 points in July (65 percent to 49 percent).”

“The groups with the highest level of interest in the election: Seniors (73 percent register either a ‘9’ or ‘10’), Democrats (65 percent), whites (61 percent), Republicans (61 percent) and African Americans (53 percent).”

Just half of Latinos express a high level of interest in the midterms, per NBC/WSJ/Telemundo oversample of Latino voters

And speaking of enthusiasm, our NBC/WSJ/Telemundo oversample of Latino voters finds a low level of interest in the midterms from this demographic group. As one of us writes, “Just a quarter of Latinos approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as president, and Latinos prefer a Congress controlled by Democrats rather than by Republicans by a three-to-one margin, according a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll.”

“But Latinos also still report less interest in the upcoming midterms than the electorate as a whole, presenting a challenge for Democrats as they try to mobilize a coalition that can win in diverse districts nationwide… About half — 49 percent — report the highest level of interest in the upcoming midterms, compared with 61 percent of white voters and 58 percent of voters overall.”

Rob Goldstone wishes he never set up that 2016 Trump Tower meeting

NBC News: “The British-born music publicist who helped arrange that infamous meeting between senior Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Democrats now believes the meeting could have been a set-up by Russian intelligence, he told NBC News in an exclusive television interview. ‘I'm willing to believe that I don't know who wanted this meeting,’ Rob Goldstone told NBC's Cynthia McFadden in a wide-ranging interview, in which he also discussed Trump's behavior in Moscow during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant.”

“Asked if he had conveyed a ‘dirty offer’ to the Trump team in brokering the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Goldstone said, ‘Yes. That is true.’ ‘That [dirt] didn't materialize,’ said Goldstone, but he believes the apparent willingness of campaign officials to accept dirt is what drew the scrutiny of congressional investigators and special counsel Robert Mueller.”