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Amid Talks of FBI Investigation, Judiciary Committee Advances Kavanaugh Nomination

Flake joins other Republicans to set up floor vote despite call for delay

Sens. Jeff Flake and Chris Coons head out of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last Friday to discuss an FBI probe of sexual misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh after Flake had been confronted by protesters on an elevator. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
Sens. Jeff Flake and Chris Coons head out of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last Friday to discuss an FBI probe of sexual misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh after Flake had been confronted by protesters on an elevator. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate Judiciary Committee, after a gut-wrenching spectacle of a hearing Thursday and last-second negotiations between Republican Jeff Flake and panel Democrats to delay a floor vote, advanced Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination to the chamber floor despite multiple sexual misconduct allegations against him.

The Friday vote was along party lines, 11-10, with all Democrats voting against him after siding with Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before the panel for four hours Thursday about her contention that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and intended to rape her in the early 1980s. She told the panel she came forward because she does not believe he should be a high court justice with a lifetime appointment.

“I think it would proper to delay the floor vote for up to but no more than one week in order to let the FBI to do an investigation, limited in time and scope, to the current allegations that are there,” Flake said before the roll was called.

The Arizona Republican had signaled to Roll Call on Thursday night that he was undecided, but by the next day, he decided to vote with his party. Flake has been verbally criticized by Donald Trump, but once again when it was time to vote, he sided with the president. The same was true for Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse, who might have tipped his hand during the Thursday hearing when he sharply criticized Democrats’ handling of the Ford allegation.

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

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As Flake headed to the hearing, he was confronted by two women in an elevator. One said she had been raped. Both yelled at the retiring lawmaker: “Look at me when I talk to you” and “What are you doing, senator?” CNN aired the five minutes of footage in its entirety.

At 2 p.m. sharp, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley abruptly adjourned the hearing. Ranking member Dianne Feinstein could be heard on a still-hot microphone questioning whether they had voted on the Flake proposal. Grassley insisted, because of committee rules, “we had to be done with this by 2 [p.m.].” Staff then cut the microphones.

While Flake said he would not be comfortable with a floor vote until there is a further investigation of Kavanaugh, the nomination was advanced regardless. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is under no obligation to honor such a deal, but he might not have the votes to advance Kavanaugh if other Republicans join Flake in not being comfortable with a floor vote before a probe is completed. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a vocal Kavanaugh proponent, said, “I love this committee, but we are not the majority leader.”

The South Carolina Republican, with a chuckle, told reporters after the vote, “Somebody’s got to explain this to Trump — I guess that will be my job.”

He added a little later: “This is democracy.”

Other Senate Republicans learned of the developments during a Friday lunch. Senators were staying around in Washington to find out whether they would need to cast procedural votes Saturday.

“I support the FBI having the opportunity to bring some closure to this,” Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski told reporters before joining a Friday afternoon huddle in McConnell’s office.

As the controversial nomination heads to the floor with Republicans one successful vote away from a Supreme Court with a 5-4 conservative bent, moderates such as Murkowski and Maine Republican Susan Collins , as well as Democrats Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, have emerged as key votes. 

Manchin said in a statement that he supported Flake’s call for a weeklong delay in the confirmation vote to allow for an investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh. 

“I applaud Senator Jeff Flake’s decision to rise above the partisan circus on display during this entire process,” the West Virginia Democrat said. 

Should none of the Democrats, many of whom face tight re-election fights, support Kavanaugh’s nomination, Republicans can only lose one GOP senator on the floor for Vice President Mike Pence to cast the 51st and decisive vote. Notably, it would make the former Indiana governor and congressman even more of a darling in conservative circles — and give him a selling point with the Trump base in any future presidential bid.

Still, the Judiciary panel vote is a win for Trump, who on Thursday night urged senators to “VOTE” to confirm his nominee.

During a nine-hour hearing Thursday that featured tears from both witnesses, Ford said she was “terrified” and Kavanaugh let his anger show.

Ford told the committee one thing she remembers most from the night in question was “the laughter — the uproarious laughter” from Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, as they allegedly corralled her in a room and Kavanaugh assaulted her. Ford said she came forward because “I thought it was my civic duty to relay the information I had about Mr. Kavanaugh’s conduct.”

Hours later, Kavanaugh was practically yelling at committee Democrats when he called the days since Ford’s allegation went public “calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election” and “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.”

On Friday, Feinstein panned Kavanaugh for using “political rhetoric” — something high court nominees rarely do in public testimony. “Unbelievable,” the California Democrat said, adding that he did not show the “temperament” or “even-handedness” necessary to sit on the Supreme Court.

Minutes earlier, Grassley said he sees “no reason” to vote down the nomination based on the evidence the committee possesses.

Members of both parties expressed sympathy for Ford. Republicans expressed sympathy for Kavanaugh. They blamed each other for all sorts of things related to how the Judiciary panel handled the accusations the nominee is facing.

The committee’s final day of work on the controversial nomination featured a threat by the man who may take its gavel should Republicans retain control of the Senate. 

“If I am chairman, next year, I’m going to remember this,” Graham said before the vote. 

White House reaction

President Donald Trump said Friday he will let the Senate work through Flake’s proposal of a one week delay to allow the FBI to look into the allegations against Kavanaugh. 

“I’m going to let the Senate handle that and they do a good job,” the president said, admitting he had only heard bits and pieces due to a meeting at the White House with his Chilean counterpart. Trump would have to order the FBI to do any investigation. 

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

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Asked if he would give the FBI that order, Trump did not appear to realize it was his decision to make. He said he would leave that decision to Senate GOP and Judiciary Committee leaders.

Trump called Ford’s testimony Thursday “very compelling.”

“She looks like a very fine woman to me. Very fine,” he said. “And I thought Brett’s testimony, likewise, was really something I hadn’t seen before.”

“It was incredible. It was an incredible moment in the history of our country,” he said. “I don’t know if this is going to continue onward or we’re going to get a vote.”

Trump said he wanted the situation “to work out really well for the country.” Asked if he has thought about a replacement nominee, Trump said, “Not even a little bit.” And he declined to send a message to senators: “They have to do what they think is right.”

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]

Niels Lesniewski and Todd Ruger contributed to this report. 

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