The Senate Judiciary committee has voted to approve Donald Trump‘s Supreme Court nominee amid high drama on Capitol Hill and a demand from a Republican senator that the FBI probe the sexual assault allegations levelled at Brett Kavanaugh.
The committee voted along party lines 11-10 to forward the 53-year-old judge’s to the full senate for a confirmation hearing. But it did so after Jeff Flake of Arizona, a man who is not seeking re-election, said he would only support Mr Kavanaugh on the main floor of the senate if a short investigation was held. “This country is being pulled apart,” said Mr Flake. “What I trying to do is ask that the FBI has investigation. It would be short and limited in scope.”
Barely two hours later, the committee said it would ask the Trump's administration to order an additional FBI background investigation into Mr Kavanaugh, that was limited “current credible allegations” and must be completed in one week.
The decision comes in the wake of powerful testimony from one of those accusers, Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who alleges Mr Kavanaugh tried to force himself upon on during a party while the two were in high school. She told congress that she was “100 per cent” certain that it was Mr Kavanaugh who attacked her and that he was “going to rape” her.
Mr Kavanaugh then spoke in front of the committee, tearing up as he denied the allegations and said they had “destroyed” his family. He denied the allegations, with the same stridency he has denied claims from two other women.
Ahead of Friday’s vote, there had been speculation Mr Flake might not vote with his party. On Friday morning, however, Mr Flake said he had decided to support the judge.
“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,” he said, according to the Associated Press, something that immediately caused the senator to be confronted by protesters. “I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”
But as the scheduled time for the 1.30pm vote approach, Mr Flake was said to be absent from the room and negotiating with senators from both parties.
He then returned to address the room. “I’m simply stating the discussion that we had between us all is that I would hope and I think we had some agreement before that the Democrats who have been — I think — justifiably uncomfortable moving ahead, could publicly, in an effort to bring this country together, say that we would feel better.... I’m not expecting them to vote yes... but not to complain that an FBI investigation has not occurred,” he said
“This is what I’m trying to do. This country is being ripped apart here. We’ve got to make sure that we do due diligence.”
Mr Flake may have been moved by the words of two protesters who confronted him in a senate elevator after it was initially announced he would back Mr Kavanaugh.
“What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court. This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about them. I have two children,” shouted one of the women, Ana Maria Archila. “I cannot imagine that for the next 50 years they will have to have someone in the Supreme Court who has been accused of violating a young girl. What are you doing, sir?”
While Mr Flake and members of the committee appear to have what might be termed a “gentlemen’s and ladies agreement” about the delay, the decision on when to call the full senate for a vote lies with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who has previously said he wanted to “plough right through” the confirmation process.
He could go ahead and call a vote as soon as he wants, if he believes he has sufficient votes, without the support of Mr Flake. Adding to his calculation will be the comments of Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski, long considered not a certainty on Mr Kavanaugh, who told reporters she supported the proposed one-week delay to the senate’s vote.
“I support the FBI having an opportunity to bring some closure to this,” she said.
Mr Trump said he will leave it to the Senate to determine when it will vote on his Supreme Court nominee. But he said he felt optimistic. “I’m sure it will all be very good,” he said at the White House, where he was meeting the president of Chile.
He said he believed Ms Ford’s testimony “was very compelling, and she looks like a very fine woman to me”. He added: “Brett’s testimony was, likewise, really something that I hadn’t seen before.”
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he did not believe any delay would last beyond a week. “I think what Jeff is trying to do is end this the best he possibly can, to accommodate some people on the other side, and to bring the committee together if possible,” Mr Graham told reporters. “This is democracy.”
Reuters said on Friday afternoon the second most-powerful Republican in the senate, John Cornyn, said the chamber would meet on Saturday at noon to vote on a procedural motion on the nomination of Mr Kavanaugh.
The senate will vote on a motion to proceed, one of the steps leading to a full chamber vote on the nomination itself. Mr Cornyn also said the FBI background investigation into Mr Kavanaugh, which Mr Flake and other senators are seeking, would not last more than a week. The final vote to confirm Mr Kavanaugh would come after the investigation.
Meanwhile, a lawyer for Mark Judge, a schoolfriend of Mr Kavanaugh who Ms Ford testified said was in the room when she was assaulted, said he would answer any questions put to him by investigators.
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