Judge Brett Kavanaugh cleared a major hurdle on Friday when the Senate Judiciary Committee approved his nomination to the Supreme Court, a day after he rejected accusations of sexual assault before the committee.
But the 11-10 vote came with a twist as Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., indicated he wanted another week before Kavanaugh is called up on the Senate floor.
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“I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote up to but not more than one week in order to let the FBI do an investigation limited in time and scope [on] the current allegations that are there,” Flake said after meeting with Democrats on the committee.
Flake said the Senate has to ensure it does its due diligence on Kavanaugh's nomination. "This country is being ripped apart here," he said.
Flake had announced hours earlier that he would support Kavanaugh. His late decision didn't affect the committee's vote, but indicated that he would not be a "yes" vote for Kavanaugh on the Senate floor until the FBI completes work on a new investigation into the assault allegations against Kavanaugh.
The move has the potential to be supported by other senators who have been on the fence, such as Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. If they or others agree, that would be enough to prevent Republicans from confirming Kavanaugh in the Senate.
A former Senate aide said the Trump administration would have to agree to an FBI investigation, which it could decide to do if it's required to win over enough senators.
Alternatively, if enough senators support Kavanaugh without an FBI investigation, Senate GOP leaders could decide to move ahead with Kavanaugh and accept Flake as a "no" vote.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., joked that "somebody’s gotta to explain this to Trump."
"I guess that'll be my job," he joked.
Collins and Murkowski have not yet said whether they will support Kavanaugh, and it wasn't immediately clear if they would support Flake's workaround.
Some Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed gratitude to Flake for pushing for a FBI probe.
"I'm certainly coming forward to say I am grateful to Sen. Flake. I am hopeful that the president will direct the FBI to further investigate the allegations that are currently before us and that I think this was a significant step and that I am hopeful that the Republican majority will embrace this one-week pause for a limited-in-scope additional investigation," said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.
Republicans hold just 51 seats in the Senate, which means they can only afford to lose one vote. If both Collins and Murkowski decided to oppose Kavanaugh, Republicans would need to pick up a Democratic senator.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation is expected to shift the court to the right, since he would replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who served as the court's swing vote for more than a decade.
The committee vote followed a lengthy, emotional, and bitter Thursday hearing in which Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, shared her recollection of the incident with the panel’s 21 members.
Ford said she feared Kavanaugh was going to rape and accidentally kill her in a 1982 encounter, and she said the “uproarious laughter” between Kavanaugh and his friend and classmate Mark Judge was seared into her memory forever.
But Kavanaugh, who also appeared before the committee for a second time, denied the allegation. He asserted several times that he never sexually assaulted Ford and denounced Senate Democrats for trashing his name and reputation.
Tempers flared in the lead-up to the committee vote, as several Democrats left the hearing as Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, read his opening statement.
“This has been about raw power,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., told reporters after leaving the hearing room. “You’re seeing that on display in this hearing this morning. You’ve been seeing it from the process from the beginning.”
Since Ford came forward with her allegation, which was followed by two other women who accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, Senate Democrats have been calling for the Judiciary Committee to halt the process and ask the FBI investigate Ford’s claim.
But Senate Republicans had rejected those calls, and said Kavanaugh has already undergone six FBI investigations throughout his tenure working in the federal government. They also said the FBI would only take statements from everyone involved and not reach any investigatory conclusion.
Instead, Senate Judiciary Committee staff interviewed Kavanaugh several times about the allegations under oath, and he denied the claims.
While Ford received praise from Senate Democrats for her testimony, they lambasted Kavanaugh for displaying anger over the accusations and criticizing Democrats for what he said was a political hit designed to “blow me up and take me down.”
“This was not someone who reflected an impartial temperament or the fairness and even-handedness one would see in a judge,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “This was someone who was aggressive and belligerent. I have never seen someone who wants to be elevated to the highest court in our country behave in that manner.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked Republicans on the panel, “Where is the bravery in this room?”
But Republicans defended Kavanaugh and said there was not enough evidence to delay or deny his nomination.
“Every woman who actually knows Brett Kavanaugh has come forward to say he is not that kind of guy,” Graham said. “He has been at the highest level of public service, under tremendous scrutiny. Six FBI investigations, and we missed the sophomore-junior rapist? We didn’t miss it. It’s a bunch of garbage.”
Grassley said testimony from Ford and Kavanaugh was “credible” and that the Senate should move forward with a vote.
“There’s simply no reason to deny Kavanaugh a seat on the Supreme Court on the basis of evidence presented to us,” he said.
Before Friday’s vote, the Senate was expected to hold a procedural vote Saturday, and a final vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination expected Tuesday. But if Flake's demand is met, votes that were anticipated next week would be delayed for several days.