Republican senators condemn Trump’s attack on Blasey Ford

President’s remarks on Kavanaugh sexual assault accuser labelled ‘appalling’

US president Donald Trump has come under fire from members of his own party for a highly personal attack on Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused his supreme court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, of sexual assault.

Republican senators who could hold the key to Mr Kavanaugh's future criticised Mr Trump, with Senator Jeff Flake labelling his behaviour "appalling".

Addressing a "Make America Great Again" rally in Mississippi on Tuesday, Mr Trump ridiculed Ms Blasey Ford.

“Thirty-six years ago this happened. I had one beer, right?” he said, impersonating her testimony at the Senate judiciary committee. “How’d you get home? I don’t remember. Where was the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Mr Trump’s mockery of Mr Kavanaugh’s accuser prompted a backlash.

But it was the reaction of three key Republican senators that could spell difficulty for the Republican party, which is seeking to vote on Mr Kavanaugh's nomination as early as Friday. In addition to Mr Flake, Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine and and senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, condemned the president. Ms Mukowski described his comments as "wholly inappropriate and in my view unacceptable". Ms Collins said the comments were "just plain wrong".

Swing votes

All the three Republican senators have emerged as swing votes in the nomination process. With Republicans controlling just 51 seats in the 100-seat senate, the Republicanparty leadership cannot afford to lose the support of any of its members.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the President's comments at the rally as simply "stating the facts", noting that while "every single word" of Mr Kavanaugh's testimony had been picked apart, an analysis of the accusations was considered "off-limits".

As controversy over Mr Trump’s remarks raged, Republican strategists expressed frustration that Mr Trump is further alienating women voters, just five weeks away from the mid-term elections. The president had exhibited relative restraint in discussing the Kavanaugh controversy, describing Mr Blasey Ford as a “very credible” witness and claiming that he “respects” her.

Ms Blasey Ford's attorney Michael Bromwich called Trump's remarks at the rally "a vicious, vile and soulless attack" on his client.

“Is it any wonder that she was terrified to come forward, and that other sexual assault survivors are as well?” he said on twitter. “She is a remarkable profile in courage. He is a profile in cowardice.”

Despite the controversy, senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said he intends to move forward with a vote this week, amid signs the FBI could finish its probe earlier than expected.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent