HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said Wednesday that if he were a member of the U.S. Senate, he would vote to confirm embattled nominee Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Knowing what I know right now, I would," Hawley said during a press conference on the Hannibal-LaGrange University campus.
Hawley, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in the Nov. 6 election, said he thinks Kavanaugh's nomination by President Donald Trump should be approved, despite the allegations of sexual assault leveled against him by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified last week at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Kavanaugh has denied the charges.
"I think it's time for the Senate to vote," Hawley said.
"I still support Judge Kavanaugh. Now we'll see if there's any new information in the background investigation that comes back. But I think what has happened with the Kavanaugh nomination is a total disgrace. I have never seen anything like it in American politics. It has been a smear campaign from beginning to end."
Hawley, who is trying to unseat incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in next month's election, blasted California Sen. Dianne Feinstein for not presenting Ford's allegations to the committee sooner.
"She did it because she wanted to create a circus, her staff wanted a circus, and the Democrats wanted a circus -- and that's exactly what they've gotten," he said. "It is a disgrace to the United States Senate. This whole process is going to drive good people out of politics."
Hawley came to the HLGU campus to be the featured speaker during the university's weekly chapel service in the Roland Fine Arts Center, where his talk focused on a positive religious theme. He told students: "God has a purpose for your life to transform the world."
Afterward, Hawley greeted students and supporters in the lobby of the fine arts center before he addressed a crowd of news media representatives, with most of the questions focusing on Kavanaugh, Trump and the upcoming election.
When asked if he is aligned with Trump politically in his bid for a Senate seat, Hawley replied: "I align myself with the voters of my state, and I will never apologize for siding with the people of Missouri. ... They voted for this president by almost 20 points because they wanted to see this country be strong. They wanted to see this country be rebuilt. So I'm going to support the country in doing that because that's what the people of this state want."
Hawley said he supports Trump's efforts to build a wall along the Mexico border because illegal immigration "is a big deal" for the Missouri residents he meets on the campaign trail.
"They want to see our borders secure, and they want to see wages rise," he said. "They don't want illegal immigrants pouring across our borders. Sen. McCaskill is supporting an open borders bill. She is sponsoring it. That is totally, totally wrong."
Hawley said Trump's announcement this week that a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico has been worked out to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement "is tremendously good news for Missouri." He said Mexico and Canada are the top two countries that receive U.S. exports, and he thinks the new agreement will be good for farmers.
Hawley spoke out against the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and other religious organizations from endorsing candidates or taking political positions because doing so could cost them their tax-exempt status and a fine.
"I think it's unconstitutional," Hawley said. "Not only do I think it should be repealed. I think it's inconsistent with the First Amendment."
Hawley said he thinks the Johnson Amendment "is an attempt to force pastors and churches to stay out of politics, to stay away from anything that could be controversial."
Hawley said McCaskill, who supports the amendment, "could not be more out of step" with the feelings of most Missourians.
Anthony Allen, HLGU's president, introduced Hawley, mentioning that a top state official involved in a heated political campaign was being given a chance to speak to students.
"As most of you know, the university does not endorse or campaign for a candidate seeking a public office," Allen said. "However, this does not preclude us from having speakers on our campus, and in our chapel, who are in public service to address issues that are near and dear to us as a university, like freedom of speech and religious liberty."