Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) announced ahead of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote to advance Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh that he would be seeking a delay before the Senate holds a floor vote to confirm Kavanaugh of up to one week to allow for an FBI probe into sexual assault allegations.
Shortly after Flake’s announcement, the committee voted 11-10 on party lines to advance Kavanaugh out of the committee. Flake said that he was voting Kavanaugh out of the committee but only with the “understanding” that floor action on the confirmation will be delayed by up to a week.
There is no indication that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who controls the floor, has agreed to this plan.
“I do think we can have a short pause and make sure the FBI can investigate,” Flake said, adding that he and other members are prepared to make a request to the White House to order an FBI investigation. “I’ve spoken to a few other members who — on my side of the aisle — that may be supportive as well, but that’s my position. I think that we ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important.”
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) September 28, 2018
Flake’s announcement came after he and several other senators on both sides of the aisle left the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room during a meeting ahead of the scheduled vote on Kavanaugh. As senators and their staff shuffled in and out of the room, it became increasingly clear to observers that the vote would not go as planned.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told reporters after the committee vote that Flake approached him to have a discussion outside of the committee room.
“I will tell you, I did not expect him to do this today,” Coons said.
Coons said that Flake’s position is that he will not vote in favor of Kavanaugh on the Senate floor until the FBI takes up an investigation of the sexual misconduct claims and that Flake only made that decision “after having reassurances from some other senators in his party.”
Shortly after Flake’s announcement, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), another key swing vote, told reporters that she supports the weeklong delay. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) also said he supported the delay to allow for an FBI review.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) suggested that President Trump will be forced to order an FBI investigation if Flake and perhaps other Republicans make their support conditional on such a move.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters that he spoke with Flake after the committee vote, and Graham seemed willing to accommodate the weeklong delay.
“I think what Jeff is trying to do is end this the best he possibly can to accommodate some people on the other side and to bring the committee together if possible,” he said.
Graham said he was headed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) office to have a discussion with McConnell and Flake.
Flake announced earlier in the day that he would support Kavanaugh. In his statement at the time he said Thursday’s hearing with Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey Ford left him “with as much doubt as certainty,” but that “our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence.”
Even if Flake maintains his tentative support for Kavanaugh, there are still enough undecided senators that Kavanaugh’s confirmation could still go down on the Senate floor.
The final days of the process have been among the most bitter and tense in recent history on Capitol Hill. They have been marked by vague threats from Republicans — and even from the judge himself — that Dems will pay for what Kavanaugh and his supports have described as a smear campaign against him. Protestors, many of them sexual assault survivors, have stalked the halls of the Capitol complex and have confronted members about supporting the judge.
Some Democratic operatives have already begun floating an impeachment push against Kavanaugh if he is confirmed.
Kavanaugh on Thursday gave a combative and, at times, belligerent defense of himself in the face of the accusations. His denials, which oscillated between angry condemnation of Democrats and tearful reflection, appeared to rally Republicans beleaguered by the accusations to Kavanaugh’s side.
“I have never heard a more compelling defense of one’s honor integrity than I did from Brett Kavanaugh,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said at the committee’s meeting Friday morning.
Judiciary Democrats, at a meeting ahead of the committee vote, reiterated their calls for Mark Judge, whom Blasey Ford says was in the room when Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her, to be subpoenaed to testify in front of the committee. Judge has denied witnessing the incident and said in written statements to the committee that he doesn’t remember the party where it allegedly occurred.
“If we want to show Dr. Ford respect, we give her the respect of having her case heard and the evidence looked at,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said at the committee meeting, her voice shaking.
The committee voted down a motion, offered by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), to recommend the subpoena by a 11-10 party line vote.
Democrats also verbally protested the move Friday morning to schedule the committee vote for the afternoon, with four Democratic members walking out of the meeting.
“This is a failure of this body to do what it has always said it’s about, which is to be deliberative,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said at a press conference after the walkout.
Most Judiciary Republicans on Friday defended Grassley’s handling of the Kavanaugh nomination and attempted to lay the blame for the fraught hearing on Democrats, who they say hid Blasey Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh until the last minute for political purposes. Blasey Ford had written her account in a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein in July, but had asked that the allegations stay confidential; Blasey Ford decided to publicly identify herself as the accuser after the existence of the letter was reported in the media.