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.
"I categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation by Dr Ford," Kavanaugh said, his voice shaking with anger as he repeatedly fought back tears.
"I've never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not in college, not ever," he said.
'100 percent certain'
Earlier, during four hours of testimony, Blasey Ford said she was "100 percent" certain that Kavanaugh was her assailant and it was "absolutely not" a case of mistaken identity.
"I am here today not because I want to be," Blasey Ford said as she recounted the alleged assault at a high school party at a suburban Maryland home.
"I am terrified," she said, her voice often quivering. "I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me."
The married mother-of-two, wearing glasses and a sober dark blue suit, appeared nervous but poised as she sat at the witness table, consulting occasionally with her lawyer.
She said Kavanaugh and a friend of his, Mark Judge, were drunk at the 1982 party when they pushed her into a bedroom.
"Brett and Mark came into the bedroom and locked the door behind them," she said. "I was pushed onto the bed and Brett got on top of me."
"I believed he was going to rape me," she said. "I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling."
"It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me," she said.
Blasey Ford said she managed to escape after Judge jumped on the bed, sending the three toppling to the floor.
Kavanaugh said he did not watch Blasey Ford's testimony but he categorically denied her allegations.
"This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fuelled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election," he said.
"My family and my name have been permanently destroyed by vicious and false accusations," Kavanaugh continued.
But he said he would not be "intimidated" into withdrawing his candidacy for a spot on the nine-member Supreme Court.
'I believe you'
Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had been a swing vote on a court now divided between four conservative and four liberal justices.
Democrats on the committee repeatedly questioned Kavanaugh about his drinking habits in high school, asking if he had ever "blacked out" while drunk.
And they praised Blasey Ford for coming forward.
"I believe you," Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, told her.
Blumenthal also criticised Trump for failing to authorise an FBI probe into Blasey Ford's allegations, a move he said "amounts to a cover-up."
Several Republican senators accused Democrats of trying to delay Kavanaugh's nomination until November in hopes of capturing control of the Senate.
"This is the most unethical sham since I've been in politics," said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
"I intend to vote for you and I hope everybody who is fair-minded will," he told Kavanaugh.