After Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) publicly announced his support for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination this morning, the vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee appeared to be a foregone conclusion. In the 21-member committee, there are 11 Republicans, and each of them supported Donald Trump’s nominee for the high court.
But when the vote scheduled for 1:30 p.m. (E.T.) didn’t happen on time, it was clear some drama was unfolding. Soon after, members returned to their seats, at which point Flake made an announcement of sorts:
“I have been speaking with a number of people on the other side – we’ve had conversations ongoing for a while – with regard to making sure we do our due diligence here. And 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.”
Moments later, the full committee voted on Kavanaugh’s nomination, and it advanced, as expected, along party lines. Flake, also as expected, voted with his party.
So, what happens now?
At this moment, there’s some ambiguity about the details and how/whether the plan will be executed. Based on the discussion that unfolded this afternoon, Flake has endorsed a Democratic call for FBI scrutiny of sexual-assault allegations into Kavanaugh. It’s his expectation that the bureau’s examination will happen over the next seven days.
That will, of course, throw off the schedule Republican leaders had in mind: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) eyed a quick floor vote on on the nominee, possibly as early as tomorrow. That now appears unlikely.
Some uncertainty hangs over the process, especially since McConnell was not a party to the informal agreement between Flake and Democrats. The Majority Leader could very well announce, “The ‘deal’ in the Judiciary Committee is nice, but I never agreed to it and the vote will happen tomorrow.”
But that probably won’t work. Flake, based on his comments this afternoon, wouldn’t go along with such a move, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who’s officially undecided, indicated today she’s on board with the week-long delay.
A complicating factor is the White House, which was also not involved in Flake’s deal. Will Donald Trump order the FBI to launch a week-long investigation because part of the Judiciary Committee wants one? The president said this afternoon he’s prepared to defer to the Senate, but in practical terms, that wasn’t a firm commitment to launch a probe.
Regardless, it’s clear that the landscape clearly looks different than it did a few hours ago. When Flake endorsed Kavanaugh’s confirmation this morning, it looked like a game-over moment: the stage was set for a final confirmation vote as early as tomorrow, and the prospect of a re-opened FBI investigation was effectively dead.
Now a week-long FBI investigation appears likely and a final floor vote has apparently been delayed. The fight continues.