WASHINGTON — Nowhere is gender politics thicker in the election season air than in the mannerly U.S. Senate as it considers what President Donald Trump's choice for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, did or didn't do in high school.
Christine Blasey Ford's accusation of sexual assault — and Kavanaugh's staunch denial — has ignited a tense, gender-infused war among the Senate's 100 members, 23 of whom are women.
Whether Kavanaugh and Ford testify under oath, and to what details, has enormous stakes for Trump and the Nov. 6 midterm elections — not to mention American men, women, teenagers, parents, schools and anyone who rises to the top of a profession in the #MeToo era.
A look at how it's playing out in the Senate:
WHERE IT STANDS
Ford says she doesn't want to publicly testify until the FBI adds to Kavanaugh's background check by investigating her allegation. Her lawyers wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying Ford wants to cooperate. But in the days since she publicly accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her at a party more than three decades ago, the lawyers said, she has been the target of "vicious harassment and even death threats." Her family has relocated, they said.
Republicans are rejecting Ford's call for an FBI investigation, putting the onus back on her to decide whether she'll testify anyway. They say she can testify in a private session if she wishes. Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Wednesday also offered to send his staff to Ford, "at a time and place convenient to her."
Trump, counseled not to dismiss or insult Ford — as he has with women who accused him of sexual misconduct — has showered sympathy on his embattled nominee and said he wants to hear from Ford. He also rejected the idea of bringing in the FBI. (Trump, too, has denied all accusations against him.)
For now, the ball is the committee's to play, but precedent and some key numbers put the GOP majority in an exquisitely uncomfortable spot.
Majority Republicans, haunted by the panel's 1991 treatment of Anita Hill during Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings, say the invitation to testify publicly on Monday stands.
11 Republicans sit on the committee, opposite 10 Democrats.
Zero: That's how many women sit among the panel's Republicans, who will cross-examine Ford. Republicans said late Tuesday they were considering hiring outside attorneys, presumably including women, to question the witnesses.
Of the Senate women, six are Republicans.
They are Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi.
Only Fischer and Hyde-Smith are on the ballot this year.
A restrained Trump said Wednesday he wants to hear what Ford has to say.
"If she shows up and makes a credible showing that'll be very interesting. We'll have to make a decision," he told reporters. But he added that Kavanaugh "is such an outstanding man. Very hard for me to imagine that anything happened."
Some Republicans pointed to the decades between the alleged attack and now.
"There are gaps in her memory," the Senate's No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said, referring to details Ford has said she can't remember. "She doesn't know how she got there, when it was and so that would logically be something where she would get questions."
"Requiring an FBI investigation of a 36-year-old allegation (without specific references to time or location) ... is not about finding the truth, but delaying the process until after the midterm elections," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement.
Standing up for a fair hearing should not just come down to women, said Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.
"Guess who is perpetrating all of these kinds of actions? It's the men in this country," Hirono said at a news conference Tuesday. "I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing, for a change."
Wednesday on CNN, she described the Senate's treatment of Ford as "callousness from my colleagues that I am totally appalled by."
"She hardly expected to be revictimized and retraumatized," Hirono said.
Ernst is a retired combat veteran who's talked publicly about facing sexual harassment in the military during more than two decades of service, and she's worked in the Senate to combat sex abuse. On Kavanaugh, she said Ford's story is important.
"If she is accusing him of something so egregious, she needs to be heard," Ernst told Radio Iowa on Tuesday.
Hyde-Smith questioned the timing of the revelation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California last week that Feinstein had known about the case for weeks and referred it to the FBI. Ford, initially reluctant to go public, did so after reporters got wind of it and started asking questions.
"I have serious reservations regarding the questionable timing and handling of this last-minute allegation," Hyde-Smith said in a statement. "This process should go forward so both sides can be heard."
POTENTIAL 2020 DEMOCRATS
The controversy hands Senate Democrats considering challenging Trump in 2020 a rich opportunity, and they're taking it.
New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called the allegation "disqualifying" and said she believes Ford.
"To refuse to treat this properly and try to confirm Judge Kavanaugh at any cost tells women that once again they are not important and they are not to be believed," Gillibrand said, adding, "that you are worth less than a man's promotion."5 comments on this story
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts posted a video on her Twitter feed of a speech Kavanaugh gave in 2015 in which he recalls his life with three friends at Georgetown Preparatory School.
"What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep," Kavanaugh said, describing the philosophy. "That's been a good thing for all of us, I think."
"I can't imagine any parent accepting this view," Warren tweeted Tuesday. "Is this really what America wants in its next Supreme Court Justice?"
This story has been corrected to show that Moore Capito's first name is Shelley, not Shelly.