WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set a crucial threshold vote for Friday on Brett Kavanaugh's tottering Supreme Court nomination, moving his polarized chamber toward a potential confirmation roll call over the weekend that would determine which party wins an election-season battle royale that has consumed the nation.
McConnell, R-Ky., touched off the process late Wednesday and announced that sometime during the evening, the FBI would deliver to an anxious Senate the potentially fateful document on claims that Kavanaugh sexually abused women. With Republicans clinging to a razor-thin 51-49 majority and five senators — including three Republicans — still vacillating, the conservative jurist's prospects of Senate confirmation remained murky and highly dependent on the file's contents, which are supposed to be kept secret.
The report was arriving at a Capitol palpably tense over the political stakes of the nomination fight and from aggressive anti-Kavanaugh protesters who have rattled and reportedly harassed senators. Feeding the anxiety was an unusually beefy presence of the U.S. Capitol Police, who were keeping demonstrators and frequently reporters at arms length by forming wedges around lawmakers walking through corridors.
Amid complaints that some lawmakers were being confronted outside their homes, McConnell claimed on the Senate floor that the protesters were "part of the organized effort" to derail Kavanaugh's nomination.
"There is no chance in the world that they're going to scare us out of doing our duty," he said.
Adding to the uncertainty, the three undecided GOP senators who could decide Kavanaugh's fate rebuked President Donald Trump for mocking one accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, by mimicking her responses to questions at last week's dramatic Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
"I would tell him, knock it off. You're not helping," Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of Trump's Tuesday night tirade.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump's insults marked a "new low."
Barring leaks, it was unclear how much of the FBI report, if any, would be made public. While senators from both sides have expressed support for revealing at least parts of the findings, FBI background checks on nominees are supposed to remain confidential.
Underscoring rising tensions, Democrats suggested that previous FBI background checks of Kavanaugh may have unearthed misconduct by the nominee.
Democrats wrote to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, challenging a Tuesday tweet by GOP aides saying prior investigations never found "a whiff of ANY issue — at all — related in any way to inappropriate sexual behavior or alcohol abuse." Democrats wrote that the GOP tweet contained information that is "not accurate."
Committee Republicans tweeted in response that their prior tweet was "completely truthful" and accused Democrats of "false smears."
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters that Trump's lampooning of Ford at a Tuesday night Mississippi campaign rally was "just plain wrong." Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called it "wholly inappropriate and in my view unacceptable," and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said on NBC's "Today" show that the remarks were "kind of appalling."
Those senators, along with Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have yet to declare how they will vote.
"All of us need to keep in mind there's a few people that are on the fence right now. And right now, that's sort of where our focus needs to be," said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who has traded barbs with Trump and will retire at year's end.
Trump drew laughs Tuesday with his rendition of how Ford answered questions at last week's hearing. "I had one beer — that's the only thing I remember," he stated inaccurately.
As he flew aboard Air Force One to the Mississippi rally, Trump was enraged by New York Times articles about Kavanaugh's high school and college years and alleging tax avoidance efforts by the president and his family, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday echoed the president's newly aggressive approach. She said Ford has "been treated like a Fabergé egg by all of us, beginning with me and the president," and said Trump was merely "pointing out factual inconsistencies."
The California psychology professor has testified that a drunken Kavanaugh sexually abused her in a locked room at a high school party in the 1980s and has said she believed he was trying to rape her. Kavanaugh has denied her assertions and those of two other women, who have accused him of other instances of sexual misconduct in the 1980s.
In a statement Wednesday night after McConnell set the vote in motion, Ford's counsel wrote: "An FBI supplemental background investigation that did not include an interview of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — nor the witnesses who corroborate her testimony — cannot be called an investigation. We are profoundly disappointed that after the tremendous sacrifice she made in coming forward, those directing the FBI investigation were not interested in seeking the truth."
Lawmakers were making plans to begin reading the FBI report early today, with senators and a small number of top aides permitted to view it in a secure room in the Capitol complex.
CHEROKEE, Iowa -- Andrew Linn, a farmer from Pierson, Iowa, wipes sweat from his brow as he and I cross paths in Cherokee three years ago. Linn constructs a set as we speak, rehearsing lines as "Captain Hook," his role in the Cherokee Community Theatre presentation of "Peter Pan."
Linn and I meet one another on Monday evening at the theater as adults and students of Cherokee's Washington High School rehearse for the production of "M*A*S*H," which helps start the 60th anniversary season for the Cherokee Community Theatre, Nov. 1-4.
"I once read that the life expectancy of a community theater is five years," Linn says. "That says something that we're heading into our 60th season."
I arrive in Cherokee on the heels of the announced purchase of the former Tyson Deli Foods plant. News broke two weeks ago that Iowa Food Group acquired the facility, closed for four years, and will open with the January hiring of 100 workers, a total that may one day balloon to 450.
Additionally, locals joined Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham in announcing a 100-acre parcel south of the old Tyson plant is now site certified and primed for industrial development.
Those happenings, coupled with the overwhelming passage (77 percent "Yes" votes) of a $12 million bond to fuel construction of an elementary school in Cherokee, directs spotlights on a county seat of 4,999 residents fighting through its share of unscripted downturns.
And that's why it's neat to see curtains swinging open for a plucky community theater. Linn credits the late Janet Koser with the founding of the organization. He also lauds the work of Sherry Held, a Cherokee resident who has been officially involved with the Cherokee Community Theatre for 58 years. Held, who works as a K-5 music teacher serving the River Valley Community School District, remains a member of the theater board, at 84 years old.
I reread the last sentence: At 84, she's still teaching and still an active theater board member?
"They didn't have anyone to teach music at the school in Washta (Iowa) at the last minute," Held says. "I said, 'Well, I can do this. I've had a wonderful experience throughout my life with kids and music and theater. This just continues it.'"
She laughs then adds, "I tell the kids at River Valley that I'm 48!"
Held and her husband, Warren Held, moved to Cherokee from Sioux City in 1960. Koser soon called Sherry and asked her to get involved with the upstart theater. She did, and so did Warren, an endeavor he cherished up until his death eight years ago.
"Warren loved the theater right up to the end," she says with warmth. "He was in lots of plays for me and with me. We had a great time with it."
Held credits Koser for showing her the way. "Mrs. Koser had to go out and seek and work to get people in the theater and to raise money to make it go," she says. "I learned from her how important it was to make connections."
As Director Nikki Schubert, a teacher at Newell-Fonda High School, puts students and adults through their paces on Monday evening for "M*A*S*H," Linn talks about the theater's proud past and its exciting 60th season, one that also features a radio play, "It's a Wonderful Life," as well as "Always a Bridesmaid," a children's theater production of "Lion King Jr.," and the summer musical, "Mamma Mia."
Locals will gather -- you can, too -- for a free night of cabaret performances, a sneak peak at the 60th season, raffle prizes, hors d'oeuvres and more at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13, a kick-off that promises all kinds of live, local fun, a way to make connections.
"We'll have a raffle and give door prizes and basically do a customer-appreciation evening for our patrons who have helped us be an important part of Cherokee for 60 years," Linn says.
Held, a high school speech judge in her spare time, says she'll be there. If it helps ensure a positive theater experience for current and future generations in and around Cherokee, count her in.
"I live for the day for live theater for our kids," she says. "I'll be down there helping in any way I can."
SIOUX CITY -- It is time to be on watch when driving, especially near or after sunset.
The Sioux County (Iowa) Sheriff's Office reported three wrecks on September 26 and 27, and traffic reports show all three involved vehicles that struck deer.
In each of those cases, a deer entered the roadway, and the damage to the cars ran from $2,000 to $4,000. No injuries to the drivers took place, but striking a deer can be a traumatic event, and at times vehicles may leave the highway.
The Sac County Sheriff's Office is advising people to be wary when driving, primarily at dusk and night, as it is "that time of year" for crashes with deer.
"We have seen farmers in their fields cutting silage and picking beans. With this time of the season comes several hazards. As the farmers begin their work in the fields, it forces deer on to our roadways. It also increases the amount of combines and other large farm machinery on our roadways. Please slow down," the sheriff's office said in a post.
Deer aren't just in rural areas. As Sioux City residents recognize, they move in northside and westside areas. In some statistics from the Sioux City Police Department, there were 59 reported collisions with deer in 2010, and 61 in 2013.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says deer like to live in wooded areas, and will also congregate in grassy areas, where farmers have taken some land out of production for government programs
DNR says deer move in large numbers typically twice per year, in spring when giving birth to fawns and in fall. The autumn times involve breeding season, beginning in mid-October and heaviest for the first three weeks in November.
Counties, cities and the Iowa Department of Transportation all have the authority to place deer warning signs on highways within their jurisdiction.
If the area has had deer-car collisions at a rate of at least three times the statewide three-year average, a sign will be placed. Most deer warning zones in Iowa are just a mile or two, but some extend up to 10 miles.
In a new report Monday, State Farm Insurance showed Iowa had the fifth-highest rate of deer collisions nationally in 2017. Data compiled by the company shows one out of 73 drivers experienced a collision with a deer.
The number of deer-vehicle collisions was 30,684, or down about 1,400 crashes from 2016. November was the month with the highest number in Iowa. Pennsylvania had the most for the year, with 141,777.
State Farm noted that people should use high beam lights at night to see deer sooner, and be wary in areas near woods and water. If a deer is seen, slow down by braking and sound the car horn, but don't swerve out of the lane.
"Deer are a road hazard. Slow down like you would for other hazards, like bad weather. Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop in time if you see a deer ahead," the State Farm release said.
SIOUX CENTER, Iowa -- A Sioux Center brokerage firm must repay nearly $12 million to customers who lost money as a result of federal commodity futures trading violations committed by the firm.
Kooima & Kaemingk Commodities Inc. also has been fined $1.25 million by the federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The commission's order was issued Sept. 26 after commissioners accepted a settlement offer from the firm, co-owned by Bradley Kooima, of Rock Valley, Iowa, and Lauren Kaemingk, of Sioux Center.
The commission found that Kaemingk and one of the firm's employees engaged in unauthorized trading in so-called "investment accounts" from January 2014 to August 2014. The firm did not obtain authorization from some customers for particular trades and didn't obtain signed powers of attorney from other customers.
The firm's employee caused approximately $10.3 million in net customer losses, and Kaemingk's unauthorized trading caused approximately $1.6 million in net losses.
The company has previously reimbursed its customers approximately $3.2 million, leaving an additional $8.7 million yet to be paid as restitution under terms of the 25-page commission ruling.
Financial marketing company CME Group opened an investigation of Kooima & Kaemingk in 2014 after an employee at the firm had performed a number of unauthorized trades that exceeded position limits for a live cattle futures contract.
After CME Group began its investigation, Kaemingk attempted to cover up the scope of the unauthorized trading, at one point asking the affected customer to provide limited and incomplete information to investigators. Kaemingk, the firm's vice president, later made misleading statements to CME during an interview.
The commission also found that Kooima, the firm's president, and Kaemingk failed to supervise their employee's handling of customer accounts. The ruling said that Kooima and Kaemingk knew by April 2014 that the employee was engaged in unauthorized trading but they did not stop it until firing that person in August 2014.
In the offer to settle, Kooima and Kaemingk did not admit or deny the commissions findings.
The order prohibits Kaemingk from directly or indirectly trading for 15 months. Kooima will not be allowed to trade for four months.