Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called for a one-week delay in a Senate floor vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to give the FBI time to investigate sexual assault allegations that have roiled his nomination.
Flake said he was voting to advance Kavanaugh out of the Judiciary Committee meeting but had been speaking to his colleagues about how to give the FBI time to investigate.
“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,” he added.
Flake’s decision is the latest twist in a Supreme Court fight that has been thrown into chaos since sexual assault allegations first surfaced against Kavanaugh earlier this month.
He alone can’t hold up Kavanaugh’s nomination. But he was quickly backed by multiple undecided senators, signaling Kavanaugh’s nomination will likely be delayed.
GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), a key swing vote, told reporters that she supports Flake’s request to delay a vote for up to a week.
“I support the FBI having an opportunity to bring some closure to this,” she told reporters.
Murkowski and GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) are the two Republicans who remain undecided on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Spokespeople for Collins didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate. They can only lose one GOP senator before they need help from Democrats to confirm Kavanaugh. No Democrats have said they will support him yet.
Without help from Democrats, no votes from Flake and Murkowski would prevent Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) from moving Kavanaugh’s nomination until the FBI has been given a week to investigate.
And Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the Democrats viewed as most likely to support Kavanaugh, quickly said he supported the request to delay the vote.
“I applaud Senator Jeff Flake’s decision to rise above the partisan circus on display during this entire process. It took courage to take a stand and call for a one-week FBI investigation to get to the bottom of the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. … It is what is right and fair for Dr. Ford, Judge Kavanaugh, and the American people,” Manchin said.
Republicans had hoped to hold an initial procedural vote on Kavanaugh on Saturday, followed by an vote to end debate on Monday and a final vote on his nomination Tuesday.
Republicans acknowledged as they headed into McConnell’s office shortly after the Judiciary Committee meeting that that they weren’t sure the Saturday vote would take place.
Spokespeople for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about whether he would support a request to delay a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination for up to a week.
Flake warned Republicans that he wanted the FBI to be given a chance to investigate the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh before the Senate holds a full vote on the nomination.
“I will only be comfortable moving on the floor until the FBI has done more investigation than they have already,” he continued. “It may not take them a week. I understand that some of these witnesses may not want to discuss anything further but I think we owe them due diligence.”
Asked why he was pulling his maneuver, he told reporters, as he walked into McConnell’s office, that he wanted a “better process.”
The curveball came only hours after Flake announced his support for Kavanaugh, giving his nomination a boost as Republicans sought to confirm him by early next week.
Supporting having the FBI dig into the allegations would be a significant shift for Republicans. Senate GOP leadership and the White House have brushed back calls from Democrats for the FBI to reopen its investigation.
But Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s classmate who told senators he didn’t want to publicly testify, said he would cooperate with an FBI investigation.
President Trump on Friday deferred to the Judiciary Committee on whether to reopen the FBI background investigation into Kavanaugh.
“I will be totally reliant on what [Judiciary Chairman Chuck] Grassley [R-Iowa] and the group decides to do,” Trump said. “They have to do what they think is right. They have to be comfortable with themselves.”
Ultimately, it would fall on the president to ask the FBI to reopen its investigation into Kavanaugh.
Flake said in his earlier statement that in a different political environment, he believed Kavanaugh would have been easily confirmed. He noted that while he found Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, “compelling,” he still had doubts after the hearing.
“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,” he said.
There were a few signs throughout Friday that something had gone amiss, sparking chatter that Flake could be mulling changing his mind or that the Judiciary Committee would delay its vote.
Flake spent much of the Friday’s meeting with his head down, frowning as his colleagues spoke.
Flake, a critical vote in Kavanaugh’s nomination, caught immediate media attention when he stepped out of the meeting to talk with Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Christopher Coons (Del.).
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) also appeared to hint that something had changed since Republicans appeared set to have the simple majority needed to get Kavanaugh out of the committee.
Whitehouse said Grassley should delay the 1:30 p.m. vote “given what’s happening in the interim, I think more time is needed.”
And shortly before his announcement, Flake emerged from the anteroom, asking Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, to follow him back inside for a private discussion.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
September 28th, 2018