The Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday voted to advance the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, one day after hearing testimony from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school.
A final vote had been expected next week. But Senate GOP leaders agreed to a supplemental FBI investigation into the allegations, lasting up to one week, following a dramatic series of events leading up to the committee vote Friday.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) sought a one-week delay in the full Senate’s vote so that the FBI could investigate Blasey’s allegations. His request came after speaking to Democrats in a room adjacent to the committee hearing room, which created much confusion and speculation ahead of the committee’s scheduled 1:30 p.m. vote.
In the end, Flake voted with other Republicans in the 11-10 party-line vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination without any assurances that the FBI investigation would happen. Later Friday, senators passed a motion to proceed with Kavanaugh’s nomination and set a schedule to continue debate beginning at 3 p.m. EDT Monday.
Flake explained his decision to reporters following the vote.
“Let me emphasize again: I’m a conservative, I would love to see Judge Kavanaugh confirmed and I hope to be able to do that,” he said. “But I want a better process and I think the involving the FBI, opening a background investigation ― which is what so many of my colleagues have been asking for, and people across the country have been asking for ― is the way to go. What I hope is people now don’t say, ‘Well, that’s not enough, you gotta do this, you gotta do that.’ This is a good faith effort to move forward, to deal with this.”
President Donald Trump said he has ordered the FBI to “conduct a supplemental investigation to update Judge Kavanaugh’s file” but clarified that he wanted it “limited in scope and completed in less than one week.”
Kavanaugh also said in a statement Friday that he would cooperate with investigators.
Blasey said in a statement through her attorney that she “welcomes this step in the process” but that “no artificial limits as to time or scope should be imposed on this investigation.”
Moments after the Judiciary Committee vote, Trump repeated his support for Kavanaugh but called Blasey “a very credible witness.”
As Flake huddled with Democratic senators, including his friend Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), it seemed that no one ― not even committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) ― knew what Flake was up to.
“I can’t even. I don’t know. I don’t know how to react to that,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said following the vote.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) the ranking Democrat on the committee, refused to reveal details of her discussions with Flake, saying, “We were just exchanging information.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a key swing vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, told reporters later that she supports Flake’s proposal for a delay and FBI investigation. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) echoed the support.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) told reporters that there was no agreement between Flake and Democratic senators because, frankly, Democrats didn’t have a lot of leverage.
“There’s no agreement with us. We’re already voting no!” Klobuchar said, adding it’s now up to Flake and other undecided Republicans to work with the White House on getting an FBI investigation.
Asked by reporters about a possible FBI investigation, Grassley said: “I’d like to be able to answer those questions, but I have no information on that.”
Committee member Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told reporters that he was immediately going to McConnell’s office, and said that he did not understand the deal reached by Flake.
“There’s a difference of opinion as to what it means,” he said.
The Judiciary Committee vote to advance the nomination to the full Senate seemed like a foregone conclusion, with Thursday’s testimony from Kavanaugh and Blasey appearing to have made little difference in the minds of senators. Judiciary Committee Republicans eagerly defended Kavanaugh during his defiant testimony, and accused Democrats of politicizing his nomination. Republicans came away from Blasey’s testimony saying that she was credible, yet continued to claim her memory may have been faulty.
Friday’s vote followed a contentious morning, with several Democratic members of the committee walking out in protest of the GOP push to advance Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Harris and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) also refused to vote on a motion setting the vote time for Friday afternoon, with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) explaining that “they are not answering because this is so unfair.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) called it “a railroad job.”
Kavanaugh’s victory in the committee was assured on Friday morning, when Flake — who had previously said “obviously, if you believe the charges are true, then you vote no” — announced that he would vote in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Shortly after that, a sexual assault survivor confronted Flake in a Capitol Hill elevator.
“Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land,” the woman said tearfully, while Flake looked down at the floor.
Blasey calmly testified before the committee on Thursday, questioned by sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, who was selected by GOP leaders because of the poor optics of showing the all-male Republican committee membership.
Later in the day, the American Bar Association, whose “well-qualified” rating of Kavanaugh was frequently touted by his supporters, called on Senate leaders to delay the vote and open an FBI investigation into sexual misconduct allegations raised by Blasey and two other women, which the Republicans and the Justice Department have refused to do.
Kavanaugh also lost the support of America Magazine, a national Jesuit publication. Kavanaugh graduated from the elite Georgetown Prep, a Jesuit school, in suburban Washington.
White House officials on Friday morning blamed Democrats for the spectacle. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Democrats of “exploiting” Blasey “for their own political purposes,” and said they owe her an apology.
Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.
This article has been updated with a Senate vote to proceed with the nomination.