News Brief: Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Senate Race In Texas

Sep 21, 2018
Originally published on September 22, 2018 1:40 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're in the middle of a high-stakes game. The lawyer for Christine Blasey Ford is negotiating with a Senate committee.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

They are discussing exactly how she would tell her story. Christine Blasey Ford has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were both in high school. A hearing has been set for Monday, but Christine Blasey Ford's lawyer says that's not an option for her client but that Ford may be willing to go before the committee Thursday under certain conditions. Then in a letter to the committee, Brett Kavanaugh himself accepted the Monday invitation and said, quote, "I remain committed to defending my integrity."

INSKEEP: We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Now, I did say high-stakes game, but I don't mean to trivialize this at all. But they are arguing over details. What makes it important to each side which day they testify, or what order they testify or who asks the questions?

HORSLEY: Well, Ford's attorney is trying to avoid having this become a simple he said, she said contest because that might put her at a disadvantage. The Senate Republicans who control this process are also trying to avoid looking like they're railroading a vulnerable victim of sexual assault. It was only last Sunday that Ford publicly attached her name to these explosive allegations against Brett Kavanaugh saying that he had assaulted her at a house party back in the early 1980s, and since then Ford has been getting death threats. She and her family have been forced to leave their home. So attorneys say she is willing to share her story with the Senate committee, provided that they can set up conditions that are what they call fair and would ensure her safety.

INSKEEP: Ensure her safety. But does this mean that she's backed down for the demand for a full FBI investigation before she testifies at all?

HORSLEY: For the moment. And that's what has really changed in the last 24 hours. It looked as if that could be a showstopper. Ford said she wanted an FBI probe before she testified. The FBI and Senate Republicans weren't interested in that. And so it looked for a moment as if Kavanaugh might simply skate to confirmation, albeit with a cloud of suspicion over his head. The committee had scheduled a tentative vote for next Wednesday. Now it appears Ford's willing to testify without such a preliminary investigation. So the timing of any Senate vote is up in the air again. And remember, the Supreme Court opens its fall term a week from Monday.

INSKEEP: So you've got that, as well. So Ford's lawyer's now talking about maybe testifying Thursday if the Senate will wait that long, which would push the vote back a little bit. So suppose there is a hearing. How would it go?

HORSLEY: We don't know exactly what this might look like. Will it be just these two witnesses, or will we hear from others? We understand the staff of the Judiciary Committee has been in contact with Mark Judge, a classmate of Kavanaugh's who Ford has said was present for the assault. Judge denies that. The committee's also talked with two others who were said to be at the house party. Also a question of who would do the questioning. Will it just be the Senate Republicans, who are all men, or will they bring in a woman from the outside maybe to improve appearances for their side? All this, still to be worked out. We do know Ford's attorney canceled an appearance on cable TV last night. So they're no longer talking past each other through the media but actually engaged in serious negotiations.

INSKEEP: Scott, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Horsley.

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INSKEEP: Wow. It's been 24 years since a Democrat has been able to win a statewide race for any office in Texas.

MARTIN: Right. So Beto O'Rourke's trying to change that, hoping to end that streak with his campaign for Senate against Ted Cruz. Both candidates are busy making their case to voters across the state. Tonight, O'Rourke and Cruz will meet for the first of three debates between the two.

INSKEEP: Joining us now to talk about the race is Ashley Lopez, who is a political reporter with member station KUT. Hey. Good morning.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: You know, when Beto O'Rourke first said he was challenging Ted Cruz for U.S. Senate, the political analysis was, wow - interesting candidate. Interesting Democrat. Lively guy. Could be a lively race. No chance, no chance at all that a Democrat will win that race. Is it still looking that way?

LOPEZ: No. It's oddly close. And I say oddly because, you know, this is Texas. This isn't a swing state. So I think most polls have them within the margin of error. So it's a toss-up at this point, which has a lot of people scratching their heads. But if you've been watching, I mean, Beto O'Rourke has had, like, thousands of people at his campaign rallies. He has, like, a lot of money on his side. He's raised something like $23 million. So, you know, there's definitely, like, a lot of momentum and just money on his side here so I think that's what's helped kind of close the race. But, yeah, I think anyone who has lived in Texas long enough or knows anything about Texas politics is thoroughly confused by this.

INSKEEP: OK. So O'Rourke has some money but is also using a lot of shoe leather, isn't he?

LOPEZ: Yeah. He has traveled the entire state, which is a big deal in Texas because we have 254 counties. It's just a large piece of land. So to visit every county in the state is a big deal, and he has done that. And I mean, in the more, like, liberal-leaning counties, a place like Austin, he's here, you know, it seems like multiple times a week, if not at least every week. So he is, like, doing the work of, you know, just getting in people's faces.

INSKEEP: But let's remember why it was that Ted Cruz was so heavily favored to begin with, one of the reasons being that it is a red state, as you said. But also, although Ted Cruz is disliked by many in Washington, any time I've traveled to Texas, he's got a constituency there. He's got people who like him.

LOPEZ: Yeah. I mean, this is a conservative state. And Texas has a lot of, you know, what I would call the evangelical right. So there are people who are just really conservative and religious, and so they look at someone like Ted Cruz and they see themselves in him. And so, you know, that hasn't changed, and I don't think those - and those voters also happen to be the people most likely to show up at the polls. So that's been really helpful for Ted Cruz's political career.

MARTIN: Also, Ashley...

LOPEZ: Yeah?

MARTIN: This is Rachel chiming in here. So Beto O'Rourke, too, has gotten a lot of outside support from outside the state. A lot of Democrats, left-leaning progressive groups have descended upon Texas. And that's something I imagine Ted Cruz can spin to his advantage.

LOPEZ: Yeah. Well, I mean, he's getting - you know, Beto O'Rourke is getting hit with - the, like, liberal Hollywood crowd likes you. So that's going to hurt you in Texas. So yeah, because he's been getting a lot of money from, you know, cities like, you know, New York - he was just in a fundraiser there recently. So yeah. I mean, that's been a helpful tool that Ted Cruz has in his back pocket.

INSKEEP: Well, let's ask about the decisive factor here. One reason that Democrats think from time to time they have a chance to win Texas is Democratic-leaning demographic groups keep growing in Texas, like the Latino vote, for example. But are Democrats preparing to show up in this midterm election?

LOPEZ: I mean, that's the million-dollar question. The challenge for Beto O'Rourke is to turn a lot of these nonvoters - because Latinos are historically nonvoters in Texas - is to turn them into actual voters. And that takes a lot of money. It takes a lot of time. And the question about - you know, I'm looking at voter registration numbers, and just, you know, talking to people, you know, who do this kind of work, and they say they're not seeing signs of that, but we'll see. You know, it all comes down to what the next few weeks look like.

INSKEEP: Not seeing signs of Democrats or Democratic constituencies registering in bigger numbers? Is that what you would say?

LOPEZ: Yeah. I pulled the numbers for the biggest counties we have, which also happen to be the most diverse counties, and, you know, it's single-digit increases since 2016, which, you know, considering all the population growth we've had in Texas, that seems small to me.

INSKEEP: Ashley Lopez of KUT. Thanks for the update.

LOPEZ: Yeah.

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INSKEEP: OK. Here's a Brexit update. They came, they listened, and said no again.

MARTIN: (Laughter). British Prime Minister Theresa May presented a plan this week in the European Union. Her plan is to keep the U.K. at least partly in Europe's single market. The president of the EU Council Donald Tusk responded with a very public brush-off.

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DONALD TUSK: The suggested framework for economic cooperation will not work.

MARTIN: Very direct. Tusk told reporters compromise was needed. Officials underscored there's some urgency here. They've set a deadline of mid-October, when the next formal EU summit is scheduled in Brussels.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt has been covering this story all along. Hi there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: I'm just trying to review here. So the British go to the Europeans and they say, how about if we have this deal where we get all gain and no pain? And the Europeans say no. And so then the British come back and say, well, how about this deal - all gain and no pain? Are we just kind of in a constant loop here?

LANGFITT: It does feel a little bit like the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day" in that it is the same pitch and the same rejection. Prime Minister May has been pitching this for a number of months, and what she's actually asking for is sort of frictionless access for goods into this market of 500 million consumers - more than 500 million consumers - but still being outside the EU. And there's a sense of exasperation, I think, in Europe, and also a sense that Brexiteers sold the British people a bill of goods. Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, said yesterday, those who said you can easily do without Europe and it will go all very well and it's easy, that there will be lots of money, are liars. So some very strong words out of Europe yesterday.

INSKEEP: Well, Boris Johnson, the British politician who led the way for Brexit once upon a time, kept saying, we have so much leverage, we have so much power. We're Britain. We have so much economic strength that they'll just in the end have to give us what we want. Do the British really have leverage?

LANGFITT: It certainly doesn't look that way at the moment. You know, the U.K. is the world's sixth-largest economy, but the EU is many times larger. And, you know, if you're a German carmaker, you don't want trade barriers to sell into the United Kingdom. But so far, the EU is staying unified on this. And the U.K.'s leverage is primarily negative. Essentially, what they kind of seemed to be saying is, if you don't give us what we want, we'll crash out of the European Union with no deal. It'll hurt your economies, but it'll hurt ours worse. And that's really not a strong negotiating position.

INSKEEP: Is Prime Minister May, Theresa May, in a position where she actually can't ask for anything less from the European Union because it would destroy her politically at home?

LANGFITT: And also I think she really is in a jam here. The reason she's pitching this the way she is, is she wants to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. You've got to remember when we were covering this more than two years ago, this was hardly discussed during the Brexit campaign, but leaving the EU actually creates the need for a border. Obviously, the Irish are up in arms against this. They don't want to see this happen. And the EU has proposed creating a border that would kind of divide Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom, from the rest of the U.K. And that's kind of like creating an internal border around a state like Texas inside the U.S. The U.K. naturally sees this as a violation of the country's sovereignty, and they find it completely unacceptable. So we still have this big stalemate.

INSKEEP: Could Theresa May lose her job over this?

LANGFITT: You know, that's a really good question, and it's a tough one. I think she is in more trouble. Many see what happened yesterday as a humiliation for her. There is more talk of dumping her as the leader of the party. But she's also proved very durable. There's some sympathy, probably, for what happened to her yesterday. Also the Conservatives' move to dump her, you could get a leadership battle. You could get a general election. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, he's a socialist. He could win next prime ministership. Conservatives' worst nightmare.

INSKEEP: Wow. All right. Frank, thanks for the update. Appreciate it.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.