Amy McGrath said late Wednesday that she would not have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after all — just hours after she told a Kentucky newspaper that she “probably” would have supported Kavanaugh’s contentious nomination because there was nothing to “disqualify” him.
McGrath’s initial support for Kavanaugh, and her ensuing flip-flop, sparked a fierce backlash from progressive activists supporting her bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Because McGrath had condemned Kavanaugh last year, some observers accused her of committing a rare “double flip-flop.”
The dramatic public stumble blunted McGrath’s momentum on the same day she announced her campaign had raised $2.5 million in its first 24 hours. It also fueled criticisms from both Republicans and Democrats that the Marine combat aviator may not be a winner in congressional politics.
McGrath was already being widely criticized for her claim in a televised interview earlier on Tuesday that President Trump’s election was similar to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and her close defeat in a House race last year disappointed national Democrats.
“You know, I think that with Judge Kavanaugh, yeah, I probably would have voted for him,” McGrath told The Louisville Courier-Journal on Wednesday. She also said that it was a “good question” to ask.
“I didn’t listen to all of the hearings. I don’t think there was anything, and I’m not a lawyer or a senator on the Judiciary Committee, so I don’t know the criteria,” McGrath offered. “But I was very concerned about Judge Kavanaugh, what I felt like were the far-right stances that he had. However, there was nothing in his record that I think would disqualify him in any way. And the fact is when you have the president and the Senate, this is our system and so I don’t think there was anything that would have disqualified him in my mind.”
Although McGrath called Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh in high school “credible,” she reiterated that she did not view them as “disqualifying.”
“Well, I mean I think again, I think it’s credible but given the amount of time that lapsed in between and from a judicial standpoint, I don’t think it would really disqualify him,” McGrath said.
Four hours after her remarks were published, McGrath tweeted a mea culpa that immediately drew scorn from both Democrats and Republicans.
“I was asked earlier today about Judge Brett Kavanaugh and I answered based upon his qualifications to be on the Supreme Court. But upon further reflection and further understanding of his record, I would have voted no,” McGrath wrote.
She continued: “I know I disappointed many today with my initial answer on how I would have voted on Brett Kavanaugh. I will make mistakes and always own up to them. The priority is defeating Mitch McConnell.”
Reaction on social media was unsparing.
“This, my friends, is what we call an unforced error,” journalist Yashar Ali observed.
“Take your third position on this later, the night is young,” said Jake Wilkins, the communications director for North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer.
Read the headline of an article on the left-wing blog Jezebel: “Unfortunately, the Woman Trying to Unseat Mitch McConnell Also Kind of Sucks.”
McGrath narrowly lost a House race to an incumbent Republican in Kentucky last year. During that race, McGrath slammed Kavanaugh and suggested she would not support his confirmation — leading some prominent commentators on social media to charge that McGrath’s flip-flop was actually multi-layered.
“I echo so many of the concerns that others have articulated over the nomination of Judge (Brett) Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court,” McGrath wrote July 2018 on Facebook. “He has shown himself to be against women’s reproductive rights, workers’ rights, consumer protections and will be among the most partisan people ever considered for the court.”
In a tweet on Wednesday, McGrath added: “I echo the concerns over the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh. He’s been against women’s reproductive rights, workers’ rights, consumer protections, and is a hard-core partisan. But we are reminded, again, that elections have consequences, and this will be with us for a generation.”
And after Ford’s accusation against Kavanaugh came to light, McGrath said she found her to be “compelling.”
“That really stands out for me, not to mention the vast disparity in their temperaments and demeanors while testifying,” McGrath wrote in a September 2018 Facebook post. “Dr. Ford’s testimony was quite compelling.”
McGrath’s campaign launch Tuesday was aided by a breathless NBC News report hours earlier that McConnell’s distant ancestors owned slaves — a revelation blunted by McConnell pointing out that President Barack Obama’s ancestors did as well.
In another striking moment, an eager MSNBC anchor also urged McGrath to tell viewers how they could easily donate to her campaign online.
For her part, despite the apparent assistance from NBC, McGrath acknowledged Tuesday she has a tough task in trying to defeat one of the most entrenched officials in Washington. But she said she sees him as vulnerable because of his lengthy tenure in Washington and his stance on health care.
Her decision to enter the race represented a rare victory for Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who has had difficulty persuading top-tier candidates in other states to take on incumbent Republicans with control of the Senate at stake.
The contest will also test the power of incumbency against a call for generational change, and hint at Trump’s popularity is transferable.
McGrath will almost certainly be able to raise enough money to mount a serious challenge to McConnell, 77, but she is still a decided underdog in a state that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since Wendell Ford in 1992.
“I’ve been always somebody who stepped up to the plate when asked, when I felt like my country needed me, and this is one of those times,” McGrath said in an interview.
She has said that Kentucky voters are not fans of either political party and they supported Trump in part because of his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, lower drug prices and deliver a more effective alternative to the Affordable Care Act.
“Those things haven’t happened because of guys like Senator McConnell,” she said.
McConnell struck back quickly in a Twitter message that presaged what a race between him and McGrath would look like. The tweet strung together a series of quotes from McGrath that depicts her as an out-of-touch liberal who also opposes Trump, and notably his call for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
McConnell campaign manager Kevin Golden said McGrath lost in 2018 “in a Democratic-wave election because she is an extreme liberal who is far out of touch with Kentuckians.”
The Senate majority leader’s tone was more sanguine. “It’ll be a spirited race,” he said Tuesday at the Capitol. He says unlike others, “I actually enjoy campaigns.”
Fox News’ Sam Dorman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.