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Kavanaugh Nomination Moves Forward As Flake Calls For FBI Investigation

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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., listens as Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Michael Reynolds, AP

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., listens as Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

Updated at 2:55 p.m. ET

Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote — after Arizona GOP 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. Flake proposes that such an investigation be "limited in time and scope" to further look into allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh — all of which the federal appeals court judge denies.

The surprising move came after some behind-the-scenes drama on the committee, which delayed a planned vote by about 30 minutes as Flake was huddled outside the room with both Democrats and Republicans to relay his concerns.

Flake then returned and announced he would vote to advance Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate with the understanding that his request would be honored.

"I think that we ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important," Flake said. He noted he'd talked with other Democrats who had been "justifiably uncomfortable" moving forward, and that this proposal might help heal the country which is being "ripped apart."

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After the vote, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was overheard telling Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that "this is all a gentlemen and women's agreement." Ultimately, the decision whether or not to delay a floor vote for Kavanaugh rests in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Flake and two other key Republican swing votes on the Kavanaugh nomination — Maine's Susan Collins and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski — will ultimately decide the judge's fate. Murkowski and Flake were seen heading to McConnell's office Friday afternoon after the Judiciary Committee vote. Murkowski told reporters she backed Flake's request for a one-week delay for an FBI investigation.

The latest unexpected twist came after a long day of testimony on Thursday by an agitated Kavanaugh, who defended his honor and integrity, and an emotional Christine Blasey Ford, who tearfully told senators how Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulted her in high school while he was drunk.

Amid a meeting with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, President Trump said he didn't know enough about the request from Flake for a one-week delay but said he would be "totally reliant on whatever" Grassley and other Republican leaders decide to do. Trump would have to order the FBI to do the reopened background check.

In his first remarks about Ford's testimony, the president said she was "very compelling" and looked like "a very fine woman to me," calling her "a credible witness." Trump also said Kavanaugh's testimony had been "incredible." He tweeted Thursday that Kavanaugh "showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting."

As to whether he had a message for undecided senators like Collins and Murkowski, Trump said "they have to do what they think is right" and be comfortable with themselves. But he reiterated he still believes Kavanaugh's nomination will ultimately be successful and said that he had not even thought about a new nominee if the vote on Kavanaugh fails.

After listening to Ford and and Kavanaugh testify, Flake issued a statement earlier on Friday saying that 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.

West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin is undecided, as well. Murkowski, Collins and Manchin had huddled with Flake late Thursday, after the hearing. Manchin's aide tweeted that he was still undecided.

The Judiciary Committee vote was initially scheduled for earlier Friday morning, 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."

There was initially expected to be a procedural vote on the Senate floor on Saturday, with Republican leaders' looking to hold a final Senate vote early next week, but given the concerns from Flake, that could now change.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said before the Judiciary Committee vote that 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 of 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 to this report.

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