WASHINGTON (AP) - Evangelical activists want Republican leaders to act more forcefully to send Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, expressing skepticism about the decades-old allegations of sexual assault levied against the federal judge. The political flashpoint is playing out only weeks before midterm elections in which conservative voters will be critical to the GOP drive to maintain control of Congress.
Kavanaugh's nomination was a prime topic Friday at the annual Values Voter summit as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, faith leaders and others vowed that President Donald Trump's nominee would win confirmation.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, the organizer of the conference, said Republicans needed to "move much more aggressively," contending the Senate had been "very accommodating" to California college professor Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault more than 30 years ago when they were teenagers.
Kavanaugh has denied the allegations and offered to testify under oath to the committee. Republicans and Ford were negotiating Friday on whether Ford will testify next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Gary Bauer, the president of American Values and a former policy aide to President Ronald Reagan, told the summit that he was praying for Ford but cast doubt over the allegations. To make his point, he re-enacted what a conversation might be like between Ford and law enforcement.
"If you walked into a police station, or an FBI agent, if you walked in anywhere and said 'I want to report a sexual assault.' 'Yes, ma'am.' 'When did this happen?' '36 years ago.' 'Excuse me?' '36 years ago. Yes.' 'Do you have any eyewitnesses?' 'Well, there are two eyewitnesses but they both deny it happened,'" Bauer said, drawing laughter from the audience. "'Where did it happen?' 'It was at a house but I don't know whose house.' 'How did you get there?' 'I don't know how I got there.' 'How did you get home?' 'I don't know how I got home.'"
McConnell was quick to reassure the crowd of core Republican supporters.
"In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court," the Kentucky Republican said. "Keep the faith, don't get rattled by all of this. We're going to plow right through it and do our jobs."
Bauer added that he doesn't know Ford.
"I don't know her values but what she's saying is unproven and I would argue it's unprovable," Bauer said. "There's reasons why most laws and most crimes have statutes of limitation. Because a week after a crime, it is difficult to reconstruct what happened. Thirty-six years later? Now look, we can't prove what she said. But there is something we can prove and that is Judge Kavanaugh's character."
Perkins said McConnell had been methodical in attempting to win Kavanaugh's confirmation "but you've got to look at what he's working with. He's working with some Republicans who look like they grew up on a boneless chicken ranch. They don't really have much backbone and when it comes to the pressure, they hide."
Perkins said Senate Republicans should allow Ford to speak. "If she says, 'I can't do it this day,' and they give her another day, 'I can't do it.' Look, move forward. The American people deserve a vote as well. Their voice needs to be heard in this process."
Evangelical leaders said if Kavanaugh failed to win confirmation, that could drive up turnout among Republican voters in November, when the party is defending its House majority and a narrow edge in the Senate. But a collapse of the nomination also would direct finger-pointing at Senate leaders and derail a top priority for Trump, who is seeking to cement a conservative imprint on the court for decades.
Michele Bachmann, a former Minnesota congresswoman and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, said the 36-year-old allegations against Kavanaugh had "come out of nowhere and I think the Senate has bent over backwards to take this woman's allegations seriously and to give her a hearing."
"She's been back-peddling, her allegations have actually been falling apart, they haven't gotten stronger," Bachmann said in an interview, adding: "We're probably going to hear her make allegations and he will deny them. Then it's really up to the senators to vote. That's what this is about."
"This whole rollout of this fight against Brett Kavanaugh has been nothing but Kabuki theater and really a disaster on the part of the Democrats," Bachmann said. "From the very first day when all of their paid people came in and were screaming throughout this hearing. This had nothing to do with order and decorum and getting to the truth."