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4 Takeaways as Kavanaugh Nomination — and Maybe an FBI Investigation — Moves Forward

‘You did a good job, Mr. President,’ critic-turned-amigo Graham says

Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 27. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)
Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 27. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

ANALYSIS | Mercifully, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday ended two bruising days of testimony and arguing about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. A party line vote sent the nomination to the Senate floor, the wreckage of over 13 hours of partisan brawling smoldering behind it.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, brought up Democrats’ disagreements with Kavanaugh’s jurisprudence. But Thursday and Friday were not about, as the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it, the nominee’s “philosophy of law.”

Rather, the two-day spectacle was largely about America’s slide into a tribal political system in which many Republicans will reflexively believe the accused — and Democrats the accuser. On Friday, members on the right side of the dais said Kavanaugh has never sexually assaulted anyone because he told them so, and members on the left side said they believe accuser Christine Blasey Ford — and signaled they are inclined to believe his other accusers.

How the last 12 days played out and what happens with the nomination likely will become an issue in the homestretch of the midterm campaign season. Here are four takeaways from the panel’s two days of partisan ill will, bickering, and gut-wrenching testimony from accuser and accused.

Graham on Flake Maneuver: Jeff’s Trying His Best to Bring the Country Together

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Fitting finish

A simple party line vote would have been too simple for what had taken place over two dramatic days. After a mysterious delay, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., announced he and Democrats had struck an agreement that it would be “proper” to delay a floor vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court to allow the FBI to reopen his background check to look into the sexual assault allegations.

After a Democratic walk out followed by members of both parties huddling and reaching an agreement, they could not agree about the agreement — but it solidified in the moments after the hearing ended. “This country is being ripped apart here,” said Flake, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, in explaining that he can only ask the president to order an expedited federal probe.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have to agree to delay the vote, and President Donald Trump would have to give the order to the FBI to look into the matter. Neither have signaled their intentions, with Trump saying whatever Senate GOP leaders want to do is fine. He also said he has not thought about a replacement nominee.

But if Flake objects to voting yes on the floor and one more GOP moderate joins him, the nomination would be stalled — or dead.

Watch: Judiciary Holds Quick Kavanaugh Vote and Comes to ‘Gentlemen and Women’s Agreement’ for FBI Probe

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Mitch on a mission

President Donald Trump’s name came up repeatedly the last two days. McConnell’s did not.

The president played the role of Kavanaugh’s chief spokesman and cheerleader since the allegations surfaced. McConnell also praised Kavanaugh, but Trump’s more pointed and effusive comments stole the show. Longtime McConnell watchers will know the top Senate Republican is just fine with that.

When Ford walked out of the Dirksen Office Building hearing room, Kavanaugh’s nomination looked in jeopardy. But by the time Republican senators had huddled Thursday night with McConnell, it appeared back on track. The panel vote means McConnell, the ultimate Capitol Hill insider, won a key battle.

With Vice President Mike Pence and his tie-breaking vote his trump card, McConnell needs only to convince either Sen. Susan Collins of Maine or Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to join their fellow Republicans in putting Kavanaugh on the high court. McConnell had his concerns about a Trump presidency. But he has used it like a man on a mission to put as many solid conservatives on federal benches. He is one vote away from securing a major prize.

Trump’s amigo

Sen. Lindsey Graham once was among Trump’s biggest critics. During the 2016 GOP presidential primary, the South Carolina Republican called the former reality television star and New York real estate executive a “jackass” and an “idiot.”

As the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., fell into poorer and poorer health in recent months before his death last month, Graham seemed to drift a bit from his longtime “Three Amigos” moderate mentor and friend. That shift took him closer and closer to Trump.

“What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open and hope you win in 2020,” Graham shouted Thursday. “Boy, y’all want power. God, I hope you never get it. I hope the American people can see through this sham.”

Graham has defended the president more and more in recent months — the president is very popular in the Palmetto State. And he planted himself firmly in Trump’s camp with angry remarks Thursday directed at Democratic members. He noted he voted for two Barack Obama high court picks, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, because he determined they were qualified. “When Donald Trump wins,” he roared, “there are no rules.”

On Friday, he sent a message directly to Trump about selecting Kavanaugh: “You did a good job, Mr. President.” He even issued a Trumpian threat to panel Democrats, should Republicans keep the Senate: “If I am chairman next year, I’m going to remember this.”

More evidence of Graham’s new amigo came as the smoke cleared from the Friday session. Graham, which a chuckle, told reporters of the Flake agreement: “Somebody’s got to explain this to Trump — I guess that will be my job.”

A low point

The United States Senate has been called the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” It has been deliberating fewer and fewer things in recent years. The last two days were a continuation of that trend.

Republican and Democratic members agreed the Kavanaugh-Ford spectacle is a low point for the chamber. Members of both parties called the two-day scene a “circus.” Fittingly, they very different reasons why.

“This will be recorded as a dark moment in the Senate’s history. I hope that from it we will all try to do better,” Florida Republican Sen Marco Rubio said in a Friday statement supporting the nominee and ripping Democrats without naming them for orchestrating an “ordeal” that “revealed how our culture has become increasingly sick and demented.”

My [GOP] colleagues are right that we should not rush to judgment and it’s not fair to assume Judge Kavanaugh is guilty without gathering the information,” ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Friday. “But it’s equally unfair to have heard from a credible, poised and brave witness (Ford) and simply ignore what we heard and move forward immediately.”

Watch: Arrested Protesters Chant ‘We Believe Christine’ Outside Kavanaugh Hearing Room

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Check out more Roll Call coverage of the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing:

[6 Takeaways from Kavanaugh’s Combative Testimony]

[Jeff Flake Straddling the Fence on Kavanaugh Ahead of Friday Vote]

[3 Takeaways From Christine Blasey Ford’s Testimony]

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