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Kavanaugh Nomination Voted Out Of Committee Amid Flake Proposal

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., listens as Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. As the committee prepared to take up the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court on Friday, Flake's was the only undecided vote.
Image credit: Michael Reynolds

Updated at 2:00 p.m. ET

UPDATE: Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote — after Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake asked for Kavanaugh’s nomination to be delayed on the Senate floor by one week in order to ask for an FBI investigation “limited in time and scope” to further look into allegations against Kavanaugh of sexual assault and sexual misconduct.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was set to vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination at 1:30 p.m. ET — but the hearing has yet to begin.

Senators, including Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have been entering and exiting the hearing room. Several seantors have been outside huddled with Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake — who had been a key undecided Republican senator now who said this morning he will vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

After listening to Christine Blasey Ford and and Kavanaugh testify Thursday, Flake issued a statement ahead of a Judiciary Committee meeting saying he “left the hearing yesterday with as much doubt as certainty.”

“What I do know is that our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence. That is what binds us to the rule of law,” said Flake. “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.”

On his way to the committee vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, Flake was confronted by a woman who said she was the victim of sexual assault. Cable news cameras aired the confrontation live as the woman repeatedly told Flake that his vote made her think her voice and experience did not matter.

“Don’t look away from me,” she said. “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened.”

Flake did not respond to the woman in the moment.

His “yes” vote means Kavanaugh will likely be confirmed by the Judiciary Committee on Friday. The panel is expected to hold its vote at 1:30 p.m.

The vote was initially scheduled for earlier, and after Democrats failed to force Grassley to call additional witnesses to testify, some Democratic members on the committee walked out of the hearing.

“This is a sham what’s going on in there right now. Democrats are not being heard. They are pushing through this process,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., one of the members who walked out.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., gave a lengthy speech to the committee underscoring his opposition to Kavanaugh and again pressing for a delay in a vote, but then joined other Democrats in walking out after he finished.

“This is not a partisan moment, this is a moral moment in our nation. … This toxic culture, this pernicious patriarchy in this country has to stop,” Booker said.

But Democrats have not figured out whether they will boycott Friday afternoon’s committee vote. “Haven’t decided yet,” Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono told reporters when asked if she would be in her seat in the Judiciary Committee hearing room when the vote is held.

The Kavanaugh nomination process appears to have driven a deep wedge between members on opposite sides of the aisle. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a normally lighthearted lawmaker with a reputation for bipartisanship, darkly warned that the process for assessing Supreme Court nominees would never be the same.

“This has never been about the truth … It’s the beginning of a process that will tear this country apart,” Graham said. “And if I am chairman next year, if we keep the majority and Sen. Grassley moves over — and I hope he doesn’t because I think he’s done a great job — I’m going to remember this. There’s the process before Kavanaugh, and the process after Kavanaugh.”

If Kavanaugh’s nomination is favorably advanced to the full Senate, this will be followed by an expected procedural vote on the Senate floor on Saturday.

Republican leaders’ goal is to hold a final Senate vote early next week.

Two key undecided Republican votes remain: Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and Maine Sen. Susan Collins. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin is undecided, as well. Those three senators had huddled with Flake late Thursday, after the hearing. Manchin’s aide tweeted that he was still undecided.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said the administration believes “things are moving in the right direction” for Kavanaugh’s confirmation and that the White House is continuing to engage with undecided senators.

Democrats were incensed in their remarks Friday about the partisan nature of Kavanaugh’s pushback, but Shah said that Kavanaugh “was correctly and rightly pointing out how broken this process is.”

In the hours after the hearing Thursday, one previously undecided Republican came out in support of Kavanaugh. Sen. Bob Corker said in a statement that, “while both individuals provided compelling testimony, nothing that has been presented corroborates the allegation. There is no question that Judge Kavanaugh is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, and in a different political environment, he would be confirmed overwhelmingly.”

Meanwhile, two vulnerable Democratic senators in the midst tight re-election races — Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly and Montana Sen. Jon Tester — both announced they would oppose Kavanaugh.

“I have deep reservations about Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to this lifetime position and, as I stated, we have been unable to get all the information necessary regarding this nomination,” Donnelly said. “While I would gladly welcome the opportunity to work with President Trump on a new nominee for this critically important position, if Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination comes before the full Senate for a vote under these circumstances, I will oppose it.”

Tester also said he has “deep concerns about the allegations of sexual assault against Judge Kavanaugh. Unfortunately, Judge Kavanaugh couldn’t find time to discuss these concerns with me in person, so the only information I have is from what he said in his hearings. I’ll be voting against him.”

Donnelly voted in favor of President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, now-Justice Neil Gorsuch, while Tester opposed him.

NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe contributed.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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