Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee, said he is willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee about accusations from a woman who said he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.
WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, under mounting pressure from senators of his own party, will call President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, and the woman who has accused him of sexual assault before the committee on Monday for extraordinary public hearings only weeks before the midterm elections.
In setting the hearing, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, backed down from a committee vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, planned for this Thursday, and pushed a confirmation once seen as inevitable into limbo.
The hearing with Judge Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist in Northern California, sets up a potentially explosive public showdown that carries unmistakable echoes of the 1991 testimony of Anita Hill, who accused the future Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in an episode that riveted the nation and ushered a slew of women into public office. It will play out against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, which has energized Democratic women across the nation, in an institution, the Senate, that is more than three-quarters male.
Mr. Trump vigorously defended his nominee on Monday, calling him an “outstanding” judge with an unblemished record, and dismissing as “ridiculous” the prospect that Judge Kavanaugh might withdraw his nomination.
“He is somebody very special; at the same time, we want to go through a process, we want to make sure everything is perfect, everything is just right,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. “If it takes a little delay, it will take a little delay — it shouldn’t certainly be very much.”
The announcement of Monday’s hearing capped a tumultuous day in Washington, as senators of both parties absorbed the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh, who only last week seemed on a glide path toward confirmation. Dr. Blasey has said Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a social gathering in the 1980s when they were both teenagers. Judge Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegations, which Dr. Blasey detailed in a letter sent in July to Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, who kept its existence secret at Dr. Blasey’s request until last week.
By Monday, both the contents of the letter and Dr. Blasey’s identity had spilled out into the open, intensifying what had already been a nasty partisan battle over Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, angrily assailed Democrats for raising the allegations at the last minute. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, demanded the F.B.I. investigate, and raised questions about Judge Kavanaugh’s veracity.
On Monday evening, The Mercury News in California published the accounts of two friends of Dr. Blasey, who said she told them in July that she was going forward with her accusations.
It will be up to Judge Kavanaugh to convince wavering senators of his innocence. Both Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, said Monday that if true, Dr. Blasey’s accusations would disqualify the nominee from the Supreme Court.
“Obviously if Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying,” Ms. Collins told reporters, adding, “For my part, I believe that it’s very important that both Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testify under oath about these allegations. I need to see them and listen to their answers to the questions in order to make an assessment.”
Mr. Flake told reporters that he is “presupposing nothing with this hearing,” but added, “If you believe the charges are true, you vote no.”
Washington’s advocacy machinery also sprang to life. A conservative advocacy group said it would spend $1.5 million on a television advertising campaign to defend Judge Kavanaugh, while a liberal group announced a $700,000 ad buy intended to pressure senators in swing states. Allies of Judge Kavanaugh made public letters from two former girlfriends, attesting to his character, while a hashtag sprang up on Twitter: #BelieveChristine.
Judge Kavanaugh spent the day at the White House, huddling and strategizing with aides in the war room across from the West Wing from which they had meticulously planned his path to confirmation. On Monday, though, the discussions were about how to salvage his chances through a hearing that officials were resigned to becoming a dramatic public spectacle.