Kavanaugh nomination advances amid Flake's call for FBI probe, Senate vote delay

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 9/28/2018, 1:45 p.m.
The Senate could be forced to delay a vote on Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation after Republican Sen. Jeff Flake called for ...
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh

By Eric Bradner, Phil Mattingly and Dana Bash, CNN

(CNN) -- The Senate could be forced to delay a vote on Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation after Republican Sen. Jeff Flake called for up to a one-week delay so the FBI can investigate sexual assault allegations facing President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee.

The Judiciary Committee voted 11-10 on party lines Friday afternoon to advance Kavanaugh's nomination to the Senate floor.

But the vote came after a chaotic scene in which Flake -- who announced his support for Kavanaugh earlier Friday, and then appeared to have a change of heart -- and other senators were involved in an hour-long, behind-the-scenes negotiation about how to proceed.

"I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to but not more than one week," Flake said, so that the FBI can investigate allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. "We ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important."

It is not immediately clear whether such an investigation would take place -- or what it would entail. That, Flake said, would be up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. The committee's chairman, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said he would back Flake's request for an FBI investigation, but there is no requirement for the FBI to act.

"This is all gentlemen's and women's agreement," Grassley said after the vote to committee members.

Trump did not immediately oppose the plan that could delay Kavanaugh's confirmation.

"Whatever they think is necessary is OK," he told reporters at the White House.

McConnell has not announced a decision on the request for a delay.

Flake's declaration that he would not vote in favor of Kavanaugh's confirmation "until the FBI has done more investigation than they have already" is significant.

Along with Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, he is one of the three Republican swing votes on Kavanaugh's confirmation. If all Democrats and two Republicans oppose Kavanaugh, he cannot be confirmed.

"If (Flake) is joined by one or two other Republicans in that request, then they wouldn't have the votes unless the investigation" is conducted, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said after the committee vote.

Senate vote count

Senate Republican leaders appeared Friday morning to have 49 solid yes votes, one shy of the 50 they need to confirm Kavanaugh -- meaning they could lose one Republican and have Vice President Mike Pence break a potential tie -- so they're going to gamble with a damaged nominee who is viscerally opposed by Democrats.

Friday morning, Flake, presumed to be the swing vote on the committee, said he would back Kavanaugh. It is unclear how his call for an FBI probe would change that.

Two Republicans -- Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- and two Democrats in red states -- Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota -- now essentially hold the future of Kavanaugh's nomination in their hands. A third undecided Democrat, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, announced his opposition to Kavanaugh late Friday morning. Donnelly was one of three Democratic senators who voted for Trump's first Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.