Brett Kavanaugh's contentious US Supreme Court nomination will be put to an initial vote today, the day after a dramatic Senate hearing saw the judge furiously fight back against sexual assault allegations recounted in harrowing detail by his accuser.
US President Donald Trump whole-heartedly backed his pick for the nation's top bench after the gripping day-long hearing opened with Christine Blasey Ford, 51, who delivered to a packed room her stark account of what she said was an attempted rape by Kavanaugh 36 years ago.
In a fiery defence, the 53-year-old conservative judge insisted before the Senate Judiciary Committee that it never happened, accusing Democrats of destroying his reputation and condemning his confirmation battle as a "national disgrace."
"Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him," the president tweeted just minutes after the close of the hearing.
"His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting," Trump said. "Democrats' search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct and resist. The Senate must vote!"
Calls for investigation rebuffed
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump would get his wish, with the Judiciary Committee – which has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats – set to vote on its recommendation Friday before the nomination goes to the full Senate, where Republicans hold a slim 51-49 edge.
"We're going to vote in the morning and we're going to move forward," McConnell told journalists, adding in a later statement that the full Senate would vote "in the coming days."
But the American Bar Association – the legal profession's largest organisation – urged the committee to postpone Friday's vote until an FBI investigation could be carried out, saying a Supreme Court appointment "is simply too important to rush to a vote."
Doing so would "have a lasting impact on the Senate's reputation, but it will also negatively affect the great trust necessary for the American people to have in the Supreme Court," said the letter from the ABA's president to top Senate committee members, published widely by US media.
The allegations against Kavanaugh by Blasey Ford, a psychology professor in California, have threatened to derail Trump's bid to tilt the highest US court to the right for years.
They come against a backdrop of the #MeToo movement – and the hearing included sharp exchanges between Republicans and Democrats mirroring the atmosphere of bitter political partisanship in Washington.