MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is defending himself against allegations of sexual misconduct. In a highly unusual move, Kavanaugh and his wife, Ashley, sat down today for an interview with Fox News. Here is part of what Brett Kavanaugh had to say.
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BRETT KAVANAUGH: The truth is I've never sexually assaulted anyone in high school or otherwise. I am not questioning and have not questioned that perhaps Dr. Ford at some point in her life was sexually assaulted by someone in some place. But what I know is I've never sexually assaulted anyone.
KELLY: As of now, President Trump and Senate GOP leaders are standing by Kavanaugh. That is even after a new allegation of sexual misconduct surfaced last night in The New Yorker. The magazine reports that a woman named Deborah Ramirez says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a drunken party at Yale when both attended college there in the 1980s. NPR has not corroborated the claim, and Kavanaugh denies it.
NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins me now. Hey, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So how are Kavanaugh and the White House responding to these allegations? Give me some more detail.
LIASSON: They're responding in the same way to both of them, which is to deny them. Kavanaugh wrote a letter today to Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He called the new allegation from The New Yorker and the old allegation from Christine Blasey Ford...
LIASSON: ...Smears, pure and simple. He also went on Fox News, as you played a clip earlier. And this was an extraordinary interview, very unusual. He sat with his wife, and he said he wasn't going to withdraw his nomination. Here's what he said.
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KAVANAUGH: I'm not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process. And we're looking for a fair process where I can be heard and defend the - my integrity, my lifelong record of promoting dignity and equality for women starting with the women who knew me when I was 14 years old. I'm not going anywhere.
LIASSON: So clearly the White House is concerned. They were concerned enough to put him out there I think in a first-ever pre-hearing interview like this. And Donald Trump called the new allegations political. Mitch McConnell said that Judge Kavanaugh is going to get a vote soon. What I'm told by White House and Hill sources is they want to fight this. They are determined to move forward with this nomination.
KELLY: How might this second allegation, this second woman coming forward change that calculation, if at all? I mean, the thinking has been that if more women came forward, this nomination becomes a harder fight. Are you hearing anything from Republican circles that they are wavering on this?
LIASSON: No and certainly not because of the second allegation. As a matter of fact, I'm hearing from Republican sources that they feel it's a thinly sourced story. The New York Times wouldn't go with it because they couldn't get anyone to corroborate it. And Republicans say it's possible that some of those moderate Republicans who are key to the confirmation of Kavanaugh might be angry about this, and it could backfire.
KELLY: So where are we, Mara, on day one of what promises to be a really long week? I mean, how in trouble or not is this nomination?
LIASSON: The dynamics changed after the allegations last week from Christine Blasey Ford, and she of course is the woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in high school. Her allegations made it harder for the three Democrats that voted for Neil Gorsuch to vote for Kavanaugh. That's Manchin, Heitkamp and Donnelly. So now all of the focus is on the two female pro-choice Republicans, Murkowski and Collins, and the two retiring Senators, Jeff Flake and Bob Corker. The GOP has difficult math here. If all the Democrats vote no, they can only lose one Republican.
KELLY: They need every vote. That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you so much.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.