US President Donald Trump revelled on Monday in arguably the biggest – and hardest fought – victory of his controversy-strewn presidency ahead of a ceremonial swearing-in for new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh's Saturday confirmation in one of the closest such Senate votes in history showcased Americans' polarisation ahead of November 6 congressional midterm elections where Democrats hope to end Republican dominance.
But far from using the aftermath to try and heal the nation, Trump piled into even fiercer attacks.
Boarding the Marine One helicopter at the White House, he branded the sexual assault allegations that threatened to derail Kavanaugh's path to the top court "a hoax" and "all made up, fabricated".
Democrats, Trump said, "tortured him (Kavanaugh) and his family. I thought it was a disgrace".
The president – whose Republicans fear losing at least the lower house of Congress in November – angrily predicted that the Kavanaugh row would backfire on Democrats.
"I think a lot of Democrats are going to vote Republican," he said. "I think you're going to see a lot of things happening on November 6 that wouldn't have."
Democrats fought tooth and nail to stop Kavanaugh's candidacy, claiming that the accomplished, conservative-minded judge was not suited to the Supreme Court, which will now tilt decisively to a more Republican-friendly panel.
Then, just as his confirmation seemed inevitable, 11th hour allegations emerged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl while at high school and exposed himself to a female classmate at an alcohol-fuelled dorm party at Yale University.
No evidence was produced to back up the searing accusations. Then an extra FBI probe – which media reports say was drastically curtailed by the White House – also found nothing new and Kavanaugh was finally voted in.
Late on Monday, Trump will be able to rub salt into opponents' wounds when he hosts a formal swearing-in ceremony.
Kavanaugh took the oath in a more hurried procedure on Saturday, but the White House version will be a chance for the Trump administration to celebrate publicly.
Kavanaugh's two-vote margin of victory in the Senate made it the closest Supreme Court confirmation vote since 1881 – and by far the most contentious since Clarence Thomas in 1991. Only one Democrat voted for Trump's nominee.
Kavanaugh's nomination as a replacement for retiring justice Anthony Kennedy was controversial from the start.
The initial focus of opposition was solely on the conservative views held by the married father of two. Then came bombshell testimony from university research psychologist Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a party when they were in school.
Now that Kavanaugh is confirmed, the nine-justice court, which rules on constitutional questions, is expected to take a more reliably conservative approach.
Trump has repeatedly said that putting conservatives on the court – Kavanaugh is his second appointment – was among the top goals of his presidency. Since justices serve lifetime appointments, the political consequences are likely to last long beyond Trump's administration.
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