RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump has jumped back into the fight over his Supreme Court nominee. At a rally last night in Mississippi, he outright mocked the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I had one beer, right? I had one beer. Well, you think it was - nope. It was one beer. Oh, good. How did you get home? I don't remember. How'd you get there? I don't remember. Where is the place? I don't remember. How many years ago was it? I don't know.
MARTIN: Earlier in the day, in front of reporters, the president worried aloud about the upshot of the Kavanaugh hearings.
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TRUMP: It's a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of.
MARTIN: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he plans a vote of the full Senate this week on the Kavanaugh nomination. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is in the studio with us this morning.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hey there.
MARTIN: So President Trump clearly believes that politicizing the Kavanaugh hearing is a good idea based on his comments last night. Do Republican leaders agree?
SNELL: Republican leaders are still trying to convince undecided Republicans - and even some Democrats - to vote for Kavanaugh. And this kind of conversation is kind of the exact opposite of what they are trying to do. And I think we should probably also point out that the president has made clear that he takes this personally, that he has a personal connection with allegations and he says - what he believes to be false allegations of sexual misconduct. And that is playing a role in the way that he's responding to all of this.
MARTIN: And Republicans took great pains to not criticize Christine Blasey Ford, even going so far as to say she's credible.
SNELL: Right. They have gone out of their way to create a paper trail and to kind of make the case that they are listening to Ford. And they're going through all of the appropriate steps of having the FBI investigation, the supplemental investigation, into these accusations so that they can say that this isn't political.
But I talked to a lot of senators who worried that the concept and the conversation about sexual assault is becoming political as a result of this hearing. One of those people was Bob Corker, who's retiring. He's from Tennessee. He's a Republican. He's clashed with the president in the past, but he seems pretty uncomfortable. This is what he said.
BOB CORKER: I know a lot about sexual assault. The thought that we don't care about that is ridiculous. But that's the way it's being portrayed and, you know, it's a shame.
SNELL: Now, that was part of a longer, more extended conversation with Corker about his real fears that this is a moment that will be hard to come back from, both politically and with the way the country interacts on major issues that are sensitive like this.
MARTIN: Congress - I think it's fair to say - doesn't exactly have a reputation as a place where everyone gets along. But your reporting says that things are even worse now.
SNELL: Yeah. I mean, on the one hand, they passed a bipartisan FAA bill. They've got to keep the government open in - sorry, in December. But on the other hand, senators are just fighting. They're out on the Senate floor verbally attacking each other. And I asked about a dozen senators what - if they thought the Senate could recover. Well, most said yes, they thought they could get there eventually because they have to.
I'm hearing stories of staff meetings that have devolved into fighting. And there have been real questions about whether the Senate can recover from the moment, whether the political atmosphere is going to get any easier when - you know what? - they're going to be in a - likely - a bigger fight with the president later on.
MARTIN: So we are in this moment where this nomination has so captured the public attention. And there are all these debates, not just on social media. There have been protests around the country. How is all of that sound - that debate - affecting what you're seeing in Capitol Hill?
SNELL: Protests are kind of a way of life in the Capitol. We see them every day. But the...
MARTIN: In the Capitol building itself?
SNELL: In the - well, more in the office buildings that surround the Capitol but on the campus where the senators are. That's just kind of the way things are. But there have been near-daily protests about Kavanaugh specifically, and they have become confrontational. And, you know, some Republican members on the Judiciary Committee are now walking through public spaces escorted by Capitol Police because there's a question about their safety.
MARTIN: But also, they were instrumental in at least portraying Jeff Flake as changing his mind after he was confronted by a protester.
SNELL: Yeah. And so the protesters and the relationship between the protesters and the senators in the Capitol has just become incredibly intense. And it actually brought - the protesters went to some of these senators as they were flying into Washington in the airport, and they - some of them said they were really shaken about the way this conversation has ratcheted up and what it's doing to the - like I said - the political conversation about sexual assault and where that goes from here.
MARTIN: All right. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell for us this morning.
Thanks so much.
SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.