The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines (11-10) Friday to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona called for a one-week delay on the nomination of Kavanaugh so that the FBI can conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct raised against him by several women. The outgoing senator said he would vote to move the nomination forward only on that condition.
"I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to – but not more than – one week in order to let the FBI do an investigation, limited in time and scope to the current allegations that are there," Flake said. "This country is being ripped apart here, and we've got to ensure we do due diligence."
Flake said he would demand that the White House to launch an FBI investigation. Trump told reporters he is open to the delay. "Whatever they think is necessary," he said.
The committee's move comes one day after Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the university professor who has accused the Supreme Court nominee of attempted rape in the 1980s, appeared before the panel. Ford told the panel that she was "100 percent" certain that Kavanaugh had assaulted her; Kavanaugh said that he was "100 percent" certain that he did not do it.
The vote came several hours after Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona announced that he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh, although he had claimed that he has doubts about the nominee. Flake voted Friday morning to strike down a motion supported by all Democrats on the committee to subpoena Mark Judge – the key witness surrounding Ford's allegations. (Ford has alleged that Judge was present when Kavanaugh attacked her.)
The panel's formal approval sends Kavanaugh's nomination to the Senate floor. However, Flake's request has likely signaled to Republicans that they will not be able to maintain their full-speed ahead of the confirmation timeline. Previously, Republican leaders were eyeing for the full chamber to hold a procedural vote on the Senate floor midday Saturday and a final vote early next week – aiming for Kavanaugh to be confirmed and sworn in as a justice soon after the high court kicks off its new term Monday.
Given Flake's request, it is unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has enough support to emerge victorious in a floor vote. Republicans currently control the Senate with a 51-49 majority. As of this writing, Republicans have 48 solid votes to confirm Kavanaugh — 49 with Flake as long as his request for an FBI investigation is honored. They need at least 50 to confirm him.
Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, who were previously undecided, said on Friday that they support Flake's call for an FBI investigation that is "limited in scope." Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia also stands in agreement. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) is the only other senator who has not revealed how she will vote.
Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Jon Tester of Montana announced Friday that they would oppose Kavanaugh's nomination. Donnelly, however, said he was largely voting "no" on Kavanagh because of the absence of an FBI investigation, so his vote could change. The red-state senators are up for re-election this year in states Trump won in 2016.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) are additional red-state Democrats who said they would oppose Kavanaugh's nomination. McCaskill is up for re-election this November and Jones is up for re-election in 2020 – both in states that Trump won in 2016.
With Election Day 39 days away, the vulnerable Senators decision to oppose Kavanaugh's nomination could influence their chances at re-election. The same can be said for Republican Senators who have refused to allow the FBI to launch an investigation into her assault claim.
If Kavanaugh gets 50 votes, it is possible Vice President Mike Pence will be called in to cast the tie-breaking vote, allowing Republicans to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
In recent days, former President George W. Bush has reportedly been lobbying senators who are undecided on Kavanaugh and are unlikely to be swayed by Trump to vote "yes," The Washington Post reports. Kavanaugh worked in Bush's White House before being confirmed to his current position on the D.C. circuit court in 2006; Bush nominated him for the job. He also served as both a staff secretary and an associate White House counsel. His wife Ashley was Bush’s secretary from 1996 to 2004.
Kavanaugh was nominated by Trump to the fill the seat vacated by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was a key swing vote on the high court.