SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The political news this week has been fast and furious. The Senate Judiciary Committee has given Christine Blasey Ford a little more time to try to arrange to testify about her allegation that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her three decades ago. Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen have been talking to the staff of special counsel Robert Mueller - probably not just about the weather. And the president says he feels surrounded by top officials in his own Justice Department. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Hello, Scott.
SIMON: Dr. Ford's been given a deadline by Senator Grassley of 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time to agree to schedule a time to testify before his committee - lots of back and forth. We're a little over an hour away. Is it possible it won't happen at all?
ELVING: Quite possible as the minutes tick away. Last night, as you said, the chairman, Chuck Grassley, gave Christine Blasey Ford a few more hours. If she doesn't agree, Grassley says the committee will go ahead with the vote on the nomination next week. We would expect Kavanaugh to be confirmed at the committee level on a party-line vote. Then, it's on to the Senate floor. And the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said yesterday that he planned to, quote, "plow right through," unquote, the challenge opposed by Dr. Ford and confirm Kavanaugh in the full Senate next week.
SIMON: And let's remind ourselves what's at stake - certainly the future composition of the U.S. Supreme Court in a critical time. Also, the nation is, in a sense, on trial for its treatment of women who say they've been victims of sexual assault - whether they're treated with respect and dignity - and then, political implications for all parties.
ELVING: Yes, indeed. Now, Kavanaugh, if confirmed, could be on the court for 20 or 30 years, cementing a Conservative majority there for the foreseeable future. In the immediate future, we've got November elections that include 35 seats in the Senate. Maybe 10 of those seats are toss-ups. And the Senate right now is 51 to 49.
So for Trump, Kavanaugh is a test of his personal brand and the way he's personally denied women's charges in the past. It also tests his clout with voters. Last night, he was in Missouri campaigning against one of the senators who's on the ballot next month, Democrat Claire McCaskill. She's one of the women who has said she will vote against Kavanaugh. And we should note that polls have Republicans doing poorly with women voters in particular this fall. So this has become a key test for Republican senators and Republican members of Congress and for the #MeToo movement, as well.
And, Scott, just this morning, NBC News has reported that a man named Garrett Ventry, who's been acting as a spokesman for the Senate committee handling all this - a man who works for a Republican PR firm in Washington promoting the Kavanaugh nomination - has just resigned from his committee role, as it came to light that he had been accused himself of sexual harassment in a previous job in North Carolina. He has denied those allegations of misconduct.
SIMON: Ron, to the special counsel news, how serious is it that both Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are apparently having a gab fest with the special counsel's office?
ELVING: These are by far the most important people in Trump's world to have agreed to cooperate with Mueller thus far. Cohen worked for Trump for far longer, but Manafort's ties to associates of Vladimir Putin are much closer. Now, we only have a dim idea - a notion of what these two men might tell about Trump. But Trump knows - he knows better than anyone. And he has seemed to be rather upset about it this week. At week's end, he had shifted gears on the Kavanaugh matter and attacked his accuser. And Trump is no longer in check but in full fight-back mode on Twitter.
SIMON: And, of course, the report yesterday from The New York Times that said Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, considered invoking the 25th Amendment where President Trump is concerned. We should remind ourselves, of course - actually, it's the cabinet and the Congress that would do that. President responded last night at a rally in Missouri.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want to tell you, we have great people in the Department of Justice, but you got some real bad ones. You've seen what's happened at the FBI. They're all gone. They're all gone. But there's a lingering stench, and we're going to get rid of that too.
SIMON: Does it sound to you like somebody's preparing a Saturday Night Massacre?
ELVING: We should note first that no taping actually happened and there was no effort to invoke the 25th Amendment. And Rosenstein has called the story inaccurate and factually incorrect. You know, you don't have to be a conspiracy theorist, though, to see this as a potential step toward justifying the firing of Rosenstein, who, of course, appointed Robert Mueller, and therefore, a step toward firing Mueller and stunting the investigation that's bearing so much fruit and coming so close to the president himself.
SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks so much for being with us.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.