Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination advanced to the full Senate on a party-line vote out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday, moments after Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake called for a one-week delay for the FBI to continue investigating sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.
“I will vote to advance the bill to the floor with that understanding,” Flake said.
The 11-10 vote to report Kavanaugh’s nomination favorably out of committee unfolded as a moment of high drama, after Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s, R-Iowa, scheduled 1:30 p.m. was delayed by about 20 minutes without explanation.
Sen. Flake, a key Republican, had indicated earlier Friday morning that he would support Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Flake and other senators were talking through the mechanics of how such a request would work.
“This country’s being ripped apart here and we’ve got to make sure we do due diligence,” Flake said.
Grassley noted the timing on Senate vote was up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Somebody’s got to explain this to Trump,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters. “I guess that’s my job.”
Emotions were still running high from senators on the committee, a day after President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee adamantly denied the high-school-years sexual assault of a woman who testified she was “100 percent” sure he was guilty.
Flake said before Friday’s hearing that Kavanaugh was entitled to the “presumption of innocence … absent corroborating evidence.”
“While some may argue that a different standard should apply regarding the Senate’s advice and consent responsibilities, I believe that the Constitution’s provisions of fairness and due process apply here as well,” Flake said. “I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”
The maneuvering followed an emotional day of testimony from both Kavanaugh and Ford that exposed divisions over justice, fairness and who should be believed. Coming weeks before the midterm elections, it ensured the debate would play into the fight for control of Congress.
As lawmakers wrangled over process, protesters swarmed Capitol Hill. Two women cornered Flake in an elevator and, through tears, implored him to change his mind.
Attention turned to a handful of undecided moderates in both parties, most notably Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, two Republicans who have been willing to buck party leaders before. Neither has said whether she would vote to confirm Kavanaugh.
Democrats running in tough re-election races this fall also faced pressure over their decisions. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who is faces a difficult contest in a swing state, announced he was voting against Kavanaugh, as did Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who is seeking re-election in a state President Donald Trump won handily in 2016.
“The allegations made against Judge Kavanaugh are disturbing and credible,” Donnelly said in a statement. “In the interest of getting as much information as possible, I believe the allegations should be investigated by the FBI.”
Democrats are also pushing to subpoena Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh who Ford testified was a witness to the alleged assault.
Judge has said he does not recall the incident, and a Democratic motion to subpoena him was blocked by Republicans in a vote. Several Democrats, including Kamala Harris of California and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, walked out of the hearing room.
Ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said accusations against Kavanaugh raised “real questions of character.”
“Candidly, in the 25 year on this committee, I have never seen a nominee for any position behave in that manner,” she said. “Judge Kavanaugh used as much political rhetoric as my Republican colleagues. And what’s more, he went on the attack.”
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said it was like the potential witness had “effectively nailed a do not disturb sign, and apparently the Republicans on this committee are satisfied.”
Leahy said it’s not that Democrats are trying to delay the nomination ahead of the midterm elections as Republicans contend. “This is about doing our job,” he said.
One Democrat not on the committee, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, added his name to the opposition. Nelson, who faces a tough re-election this fall in the swing state, announced Friday he was voting against Kavanaugh.
Meanwhile, there were signs that Thursday’s remarkable testimony before the panel — in which Kavanaugh angrily declared his innocence and Ford calmly recounted the moment in which she says he attacked her — had registered negatively with two organizations whose support Kavanaugh had earlier received.
The American Bar Association, which previously gave Kavanaugh its highest rating of “well qualified,” asked the Senate committee and the full Senate to delay their votes until the FBI could do a full background check on the assault claims — something President Donald Trump has refused to order. Grassley, too, has refused.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed that Friday, telling reporters that Kavanaugh has already “been through six separate background investigations by the FBI.”
Late Thursday, the magazine of the Jesuit religious order in the United States withdrew its endorsement of Kavanaugh, saying the nomination was no longer in the interests of the country and “should be withdrawn.”
“If Senate Republicans proceed with his nomination, they will be prioritizing policy aims over a woman’s report of an assault,” the “America” editors wrote. “Were he to be confirmed without this allegation being firmly disproved, it would hang over his future decisions on the Supreme Court for decades and further divide the country.”
Kavanaugh has repeatedly cited his Roman Catholic faith and his years as a student at the Jesuit-run Georgetown Prep school in Maryland.
And on Friday, the dean of Yale Law School, Heather Gerkin, said, “proceeding with the confirmation process without further investigation is not in the best interest of the Court or our profession.” Kavanuagh graduated from the school in 1990.
Meanwhile, former President George W. Bush has been advocating for Kavanaugh with wavering senators in recent days, according to a person familiar with Bush’s outreach who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
The White House said it was also engaging with wavering GOP senators, but provided few details.
Flake’s decision has been among the most watched, and he had told reporters it was “a tough call” as he left the Capitol late Thursday.
The Arizonan had been holed up with other key senators — Collins, Murkowski, and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia — after the daylong hearing in Collins’ hide-away office on the third floor in the Capitol.
At the private meeting of GOP senators late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell led a round of applause for Grassley as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham after the South Carolina senator’s dramatic defense of Kavanaugh at the hearing.
But Collins raised questions, including her interest in hearing testimony from Judge, according to a GOP aide familiar with the session but unauthorized to discuss it and granted anonymity. To satisfy her, the committee released a letter from Judge reiterating late Thursday that he did not recall the incident and explaining that as a “recovering alcoholic and a cancer survivor” he has “struggled with depression and anxiety” and avoids public speaking. It was unclear if that resolved Collins’ interest in asking him to appear.
Thursday’s testimony appeared to have only sharpened the partisan divide over Trump’s nominee. Republicans praised Ford’s bravery in coming forward, but many of them said her account won’t affect their support for Kavanaugh.
At the daylong session, Ford and Kavanaugh both said the event and the public controversy that has erupted 36 years later had altered their lives forever and for the worse — perhaps the only thing they agreed on.
Telling her story in person for the first time, Ford, a California psychology professor, quietly told the nation and the Senate Judiciary Committee her long-held secret of the alleged assault in locked room at a gathering of friends when she was just 15. The memory — and Kavanaugh’s laughter during the act — was “locked” in her brain, she said: “100 percent.” Hours later, Kavanaugh angrily denied it, alternating a loud, defiant tone with near tears as he addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“You have replaced ‘advice and consent’ with ‘search and destroy,'” he said, referring to the Constitution’s charge to senators’ duties in confirming high officials. Trump’s tweet later used the same “search and destroy” language.
Repeatedly Democrats asked Kavanaugh to call for an FBI investigation into the claims. He did not.
“I welcome whatever the committee wants to do,” he said.
Republicans are reluctant for several reasons, including the likelihood that further investigations could push a vote past the November elections that may switch Senate control back to the Democrats and make consideration of any Trump nominee more difficult.
The judge repeatedly refused to answer senators’ questions about the hard-party atmosphere that has been described from his peer group at Georgetown Prep and Yale, treating them dismissively.
“Sometimes I had too many beers,” he acknowledged. “I liked beer. I still like beer. But I never drank beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone. “
When Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., pressed if he ever drank so much he blacked out, he replied, “Have you?” After a break in the proceedings, he came back and apologized to Klobuchar. She said her father was an alcoholic.
“What I was thinking is, if he was a judge in a courtroom and I had acted like that, and this is kind of like our courtroom, right, he would have thrown me out,” Klobuchar said of the moment Friday on NBC’s “Today” show.
She added that she appreciated his apology but that he “really didn’t answer the question” and a reopened FBI investigation could “get to the bottom of it.”
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick, Juliet Linderman, Padmananda Rama, Matthew Daly, Julie Pace and AP photographers J. Scott Applewhite and Carolyn Kaster contributed to this report.