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Arizona's Flake takes himself off the fence, will support Kavanaugh

Jeff Flake occasionally delivers eloquent speeches, questioning the direction of his party. Then the speeches end, and he sticks with his partisan brethren.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., stops to speak with a reporter as he arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy luncheon, May 12, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., stops to speak with a reporter as he arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy luncheon, May 12, 2015. 

For Republican leaders, lobbying Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to support Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination posed a difficult challenge: they had very little to offer the retiring senator.

The Arizonan's congressional career is nearly over, so GOP leaders couldn't bribe him with committee spots or campaign commitments, and since he doesn't want or need anything from him, Republicans weren't in a position to threaten them, either.

Evidently, it didn't matter.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who had forced a one-week delay and a new FBI background check investigation into sexual misconduct allegations involving Kavanaugh, told reporters after the cloture vote Friday that he plans to vote to confirm the nominee Saturday barring some major unforeseen development.Asked if he thinks Kavanaugh will be confirmed, Flake said, "I think so."

As we discussed last week, after Flake announced he'd support Kavanaugh in committee, the Arizona Republican periodically delivers eloquent speeches, criticizing his party's president whom he does not respect, and expressing seemingly sincere questions about the direction of the GOP.

But once again, after the speeches end, and it's time to cast meaningful votes, Flake's pattern of sticking with his partisan brethren is what matters. I don't doubt he'll furrow his brow when voting to put Kavanaugh on the nation's highest court, just as I know his apparent anguish won't matter.

At an event this week, Flake expressed concern about Kavanaugh's partisanship, saying, "We can't have that on the Court."

Three days later, it appears the Arizona Republican concluded we can have it after all.

So where does that leave us? As today got underway, there were four undecided senators on the pending Republican nominee: West Virginia's Joe Manchin (D), Maine's Susan Collins (R), Alaska's Lisa Murkowski (R), and Flake. There were also 48 "no" votes -- a number that had to reach 51 in order to defeat Kavanaugh.

Since then, Murkowski has announced her opposition, bringing the new total of "no" votes to 49. Flake has also taken himself off the fence, announcing his plan to vote "yes."

As a matter of arithmetic, that means that, unless a senator changes his or her mind, both Collins and Manchin have to vote "no" tomorrow in order to defeat Kavanaugh.

We may not have to wait too much longer to find out if that'll happen: Collins' office has said she'll announce her position at 3 p.m. (E.T.). If the Maine Republican decides to support Kavanaugh, his confirmation is assured. If Collins announces her opposition, the burden will fall to the conservative Democrat from West Virginia who's in the midst of a competitive re-election fight.