WASHINGTON — After a flurry of last-minute negotiations, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court Friday after informally agreeing with a late call from Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona for a one week investigation into sexual assault allegations against the high court nominee.
It was unclear whether Republican leaders, who have pushed for fast confirmation of Kavanaugh, would back the request for further investigation or instead would press forward with a full Senate vote on the nomination.
President Donald Trump, who has accused the Democrats of obstruction and opposed the FBI probing the allegations against his nominee, said merely that he would “let the Senate handle that.”
The dramatic scene unfolded a day after Kavanaugh and an accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified in an emotional, hours-long hearing. Kavanaugh angrily denied the allegations that he assaulted Ford while they were both in high school, while she said she was “100 percent” certain he was her attacker.
Flake, a key moderate Republican, was at the center of Friday’s drama and uncertainty. In the morning, he announced that he would support Kavanaugh’s nomination. Shortly after, he was confronted in an elevator by two women who, through tears, implored him to change his mind. The stunning confrontation was captured by television cameras.
After huddling privately with his colleagues, Flake announced that he would vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate only if the FBI were to investigate the allegations against the judge. Democrats have been calling for such an investigation, though Republicans and the White House have insisted it’s unnecessary.
The committee vote was 11-10 along party lines.
Flake said that after discussing the matter with fellow senators, he felt it “would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to but not more than one week.”
That increases the pressure on a handful of colleagues who haven’t yet said whether they back Kavanaugh: Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
With a 51-49 majority, Senate Republicans have little margin for error, especially given the fact that several Democrats facing tough re-election prospects this fall announced their opposition to Kavanaugh on Friday. Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Jon Tester of Montana all said they would vote no.
During Thursday’s hearing, Democrats repeatedly peppered Kavanaugh with questions about whether he would support an FBI investigation. He demurred, saying he would back whatever the committee decided to do.
The FBI conducts background checks for federal nominees, but the agency does not make judgments on the credibility or significance of allegations. It compiles information about the nominee’s past and provides its findings the White House, which passes it along to the committee. Republicans say reopening the FBI investigation is unnecessary because committee members have had the opportunity to question both Kavanaugh and Ford and other potential witnesses have submitted sworn statements.
If the FBI does reopen the background investigation, agents could interview accusers and witnesses and gather additional evidence or details that could help corroborate or disprove the allegations.
Democrats have been particularly focused on getting more information from Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh who Ford said was also in the room during her alleged assault. In her gripping testimony, Ford said Kavanaugh and Judge’s laughter during the incident has stuck with her nearly four decades later.
Judge has said he does not recall any such incident, and a Democratic motion Friday to subpoena him was blocked by Republicans in a vote.
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