WASHINGTON — A Senate vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court may be delayed a week after Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) said that he wanted to see an FBI investigation of sexual assault claims.
On Friday, Flake joined with the Republican majority on the Judiciary Committee to send the Kavanaugh nomination to the Senate floor, but said that he would not feel comfortable voting yes in a full Senate vote “until the FBI has done more investigation than they have already.” He said that such a vote should be delayed a week.
At the White House, President Trump indicated that he would not object to a delay. “Whatever they think is necessary is okay,” he told reporters.
Kavanaugh’s nomination has been thrown into doubt ever since Christine Blasey Ford came forward with claims that she was sexually assaulted by him at a high school party in the early 1980s.
On Thursday, she testified before the Judiciary Committee, emotionally recounting what happened and how the incident affected her life ever since. But in a 45-minute statement in the afternoon, Kavanaugh angrily denied the allegations and criticized the process as a partisan hit.
Kavanaugh’s denial and defiance seemed to convince Republicans that Kavanaugh’s nomination should move forward.
Just minutes before Friday’s hearing was scheduled to begin, Flake announced that he would vote yes.
“I wish that I could express the confidence that some of my colleagues have conveyed about what either did or did not happen in the early 1980s, but I left the hearing yesterday with as much doubt as certainty,” Flake said in a statement. “What I do know is that our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence.”
Soon after, as he headed to the hearing, he was confronted by protesters over his planned vote. In a moment that was captured by cameras, one woman said that she was a sexual assault survivor, and told him, “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me.”
As Friday’s hearing stretched into the late morning, Flake left the hearing and huddled in an anteroom with some of the Judiciary Committee’s Democrats, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). As a 1:30 p.m. vote approached, it became clear that Flake was engaged in serious discussions on a way forward, particularly with the sharp partisan divisions among committee members.
Three of its Democratic members, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), had walked out in protest after Republicans refused Blumenthal’s motion to delay the committee vote.
They argued that Republicans were proceeding without a FBI investigation of Ford’s claims and that of other accusers.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, said, “While the Republican strategy is no longer attack the victim. It is, ignore the victim.”
“Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle had their minds made up before one word was uttered,” she said, adding that “this was not about ensuring a fair process. This was about doing the bare minimum.”
She also criticized the partisan nature of Kavanaugh’s testimony, including a claim that he was the victim of a “search and destroy effort” by Democrats and that it was “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” “Unbelievable,” she said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said that an investigation could examine evidence that could corroborate some of Ford’s timeline of events. He cited Kavanaugh’s calendar from 1982, which includes an entry on July 1 that refers to a meeting with friends. Those include references to individuals who Ford says were the party where the alleged assault took place.
The American Bar Association, in a letter from its president, urged a delay in the vote. The group has called Kavanaugh “well-qualified,” but in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the group’s president, Robert Carlson, wrote that “the basic principles that underscore the Senate’s constitutional duty of advice and consent on federal judicial nominees require nothing less than a careful examination of the accusations and the facts by the F.B.I.”
But Republicans expressed skepticism that the FBI would be able to discern any more than what the committee already has obtained. Mark Judge, one of Kavanaugh’s friends, said that he had no recollection of the events described by Ford. She said that he was one of those present with Kavanaugh as he allegedly assaulted her.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that Judge’s statement was sufficient, and Republicans noted that it was made under penalty of a felony if he was lying.
The confirmation process seems to have solidified partisan divisions on the committee, which once had reached consensus on the vast majority of judicial appointments.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) accused the Democrats of seeking to delay the Kavanaugh nomination in hopes of keeping the seat vacant until the 2020 presidential elections. As he did in a fiery speech on Thursday, he said that they were willing to sully Kavanaugh’s character for partisan aims.
“If we reward this, it is the end of good people wanting to be judges,” he said.
He said if Republicans hold the Senate, and he gets the chairmanship, “I am going to remember this,” adding that “if you try to destroy somebody, you will not get away with it.”
Protesters fanned out at the Capitol, as they have throughout the Kavanaugh confirmation process, amid tight security.
At Friday’s hearing, Democratic members of the House filled gallery seats and, in a moment of protest, stood up and stared as Republicans moved forward with the Kavanaugh nomination. As standing during the hearing is a violation of rules, they exited before they were ejected by a Capitol Police officer.
At a rally in front of the Supreme Court that included Alyssa Milano and Joan Baez were among the speakers, and they demonstrators later marched to the Hart Senate Office building. Some chanted, “We Believe Survivors.”