Senate Republicans unite around Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as committee vote nears

Richard Wolf and Christal Hayes, USA TODAY
Published 7:08 a.m. ET Sept. 28, 2018 | Updated 11:07 a.m. ET Sept. 28, 2018

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Senator Lindsey Graham turns his anger on the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing.
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee moved toward a vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court Friday with Republicans apparently united in support of him.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who had been undecided, announced he will support Kavanaugh despite leaving Thursday’s emotional hearing regarding accusations of sexual assault “with as much doubt as certainty.”

“Our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence,” Flake said in a prepared statement released shortly before the committee’s meeting. “That is what binds us to the rule of law.”

More: Protesters shout at Sen. Jeff Flake in elevator: ‘Tell me it doesn’t matter’

More: Judiciary Committee Democrats walk out of Kavanaugh hearing in protest

The Republican-led committee announced it would vote on Kavanaugh by 1:30 p.m. ET. It also turned aside Democrats’ effort to subpoena Mark Judge, a potential witness to the alleged assault of Christine Blasey Ford, who gave emotional testimony on Thursday.

At that point, many of the panel’s Democrats walked out, as did other Democratic lawmakers and Ford supporters who had filled the last two rows of the committee room.

The showdown vote was pending less than a day after the panel heard emotional testimony from Kavanaugh and Ford, who alleges the nominee pinned her to a bed and tried to remove her clothes at a party when they were both teens. Kavanaugh has vehemently denied the allegations.

“We should not rush to judgment,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the panel. She said it was wrong to listen to “a credible, poised and brave witness and simply ignore what we heard.”

But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Democrats simply want to “beat Judge Kavanaugh into submission.”

“We can’t allow more time for new smears to damage Judge Kavanaugh,” he said. “We’ve reached a point where it’s time to end the circus.”

If the committee approves the nomination, it would then go to the full Senate over the weekend, with a final up-or-down vote possible by Tuesday. 

More: The top moments from Thursday’s emotional testimony by Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Ford

More: Analysis: On Kavanaugh vs. Ford, a Supreme Court showdown hinges on whom you believe

More: Senate panel to vote Friday on Brett Kavanaugh after assault testimony but his fate uncertain

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Republicans left the U.S. Capitol Thursday evening in a state of uncertainty. GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both supporters of abortion rights, have remained noncommittal. If they both ultimately oppose Kavanaugh, he is unlikely to be confirmed.

Democrats were furious that Republicans scheduled the vote so soon after the day-long hearing, at which both Ford and Kavanaugh said they were “100 percent” sure of their diametrically opposed stories. Senators pointed to people who were allegedly present at the party Ford has described, saying they have not had the chance to testify.

“We should hear what these witnesses have to say for themselves publicly before the Senate Judiciary Committee about what they remember of the Summer of 1982. In their own words,” Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said on Twitter. “Right now we are missing this critical information.”

Democrats also cited the lack of an investigation by the FBI as a reason to slow down the pace of the process. The American Bar Association added its voice Friday to those seeking an FBI probe, but the White House has not requested one.

Ford offered emotional and intimate testimony before the Judiciary Committee. She told senators she was confident Kavanaugh was “the boy who sexually assaulted me.” She said the sounds of his laughter during the assault have haunted her for decades. 

More: Brett Kavanaugh: How quickly could he be confirmed to the Supreme Court?

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Christine Blasey Ford says she is certain she did not mistakenly identify Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as her attacker at a party when they were both in high school more than 30 years ago. (Sept. 27)
AP

“They were having fun at my expense,” she said. “I was underneath one of them while the two laughed.”

In testimony that was both fiery and at times tearful, Kavanaugh said the sexual assault allegations had harmed his family and his name. He accused Democrats of orchestrating a “political hit” and repeatedly professed his innocence. 

“You will not drive me out,” he said. 

Democrats denounced the judge’s temperament Friday, noting he blamed his predicament on Trump’s election and revenge on behalf of the Clintons, presumably for his work investigating President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

“It’s hard to make this stuff up,” Sen Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said. “That amounts to conspiratorial madness.”

Confirming Kavanaugh would be an important milestone for Republicans and the president, as it would tilt the balance of power on the high court to conservatives. 

While Friday’s vote is an important step in the process, it’s not final. There have been previous cases where a Supreme Court nominee has been brought to the full Senate for a vote even without committee approval.

If the committee approves Kavanaugh’s nomination, or if the nomination is sent to the floor without a recommendation, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could make a motion on Saturday to end debate on the nomination. Under Senate rules, that means a final vote on could take place on Tuesday.

Contributing: Eliza Collins

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