Drama and confusion grip crucial Senate panel vote on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination as key senator makes demand for FBI investigation

Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesJeff Flake.
  • Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona turned the Senate on its head Friday by announcing he wouldn’t vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court until the FBI completes an investigation into the allegations of sexual assault.
  • Flake did vote to advance Kavanaugh in the committee.
  • Now all eyes are on undecided Republican senators and the White House.

In a stunning turn of events, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona demanded the delay of a confirmation vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for up to one week. Flake said he wants to allow the FBI to conduct an investigation into the allegations of sexual assault the judge is facing.

Flake did vote to move Kavanaugh’s nomination out of the committee, joining the 10 other Republicans on the panel who voted to advance the DC Circuit Court judge.

Kavanaugh can now be brought before the full Senate for a confirmation vote. But with Flake’s demand, Kavanaugh’s chances of being confirmed as soon as Saturday took an immediate dive.

Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, meaning one other Republican senator would have to join Flake for the confirmation to stall. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have yet to say how they will vote. Neither have Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Soon after Flake’s announcement, Murkowski, Heitkamp, Manchin, and Collins announced support for the investigation. Within hours, Republican Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate Majroity Whip and a Judiciary Committee member, announced that an FBI investigation lasting no longer than one week would take place.

Flake and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, both on the Judiciary Committee, left the panel for an extended period on Friday as their colleagues gave speeches. Earlier in the day, Flake was confronted by protesters in an emotional exchange during which a woman who said she was raped pleaded with him to seek more information on Kavanaugh.

Upon Flake’s return, he announced his intention to vote for Kavanaugh in the committee but not on the floor until the weeklong investigation took place. Democrats found this to be palpable, with Coons and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota praising Flake.

“It doesn’t have to be an agreement,” Klobuchar said in explaining the decision to her colleagues. “It is one senator standing up.”

The senators agreed that only the current allegations should be investigated by the FBI.

Brett KavanaughErin Schaff-Pool/Getty ImagesBrett Kavanaugh.

There was widespread confusion on the panel as to what exactly had taken place.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s ranking member, seemed to incorrectly think a motion was being voted on as part of Flake’s announcement, according to a conversation that was caught on microphone.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s chairman, said the decision now rests with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is tasked with scheduling a floor vote. With Murkowski’s demurral, it seems unlikely McConnell will attempt to push forward immediately.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a committee member, told reporters following the vote that he was still “trying to find out what this is,” adding that he would soon meet with Flake and McConnell.

“This was kind of a surprise to all of us,” he said.

At the White House, President Donald Trump was asked about Flake’s decision.

“I’m going to let the Senate handle that, and they will make their decisions,” Trump said, adding the senators “are very professional.”

Flake’s decision comes a day after both Kavanaugh and professor Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assaulting her in the early 1980s, testified before the Judiciary Committee. Ford said she was “100%” certain Kavanaugh assaulted her while Kavanaugh emphatically and angrily denied the allegation.

Democrats had pushed intensely for an FBI investigation into Ford’s and other accusers allegations, which Kavanaugh and many Senate Republicans had pushed back against.

Trump said he felt Ford’s testimony “was very compelling,” adding that Kavanaugh’s testimony “was really something I hadn’t seen before.”

He said the hearing was an “incredible moment for our country.”

On the senators, Trump said “they have to do what they think is right.”

“They have to be comfortable with themselves,” he said.

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