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Kavanaugh confirmation faces fresh uncertainties

The confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is headed into another week of uncertainty.

Senate GOP leaders on Friday afternoon delayed a vote to end debate on Kavanaugh’s nomination after Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOne of life's great mysteries: Why would any conservative vote for Biden? Trump excoriates Sasse over leaked audio Biden holds 8-point lead over Trump in Arizona: poll MORE (R-Ariz.) said he would be comfortable moving forward only after the FBI conducts an investigation into the sexual assault allegations against the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals judge.

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While Flake voted with his Republican colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the floor, his pronouncement threw another wrench into a dramatic and bitterly partisan fight that reached new heights Thursday with emotional testimony from one of Kavanaugh’s accusers followed by his charged rebuttal.

Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, meaning it would take only two Republicans to sink his confirmation if Democrats are united in their opposition.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Murkowski says she will vote to confirm Barrett to Supreme Court on Monday MORE (R-Alaska) announced her support for a delay before Republican leaders agreed to Flake’s request.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Trump autographs pumpkin at Maine campaign event: 'It'll be on eBay tonight' Trump makes rare campaign stops in New England in closing stretch MORE (R-Maine) gave her backing following the Judiciary Committee’s statement saying it would request the Trump administration instruct the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation that would be “limited to current credible allegations.”

She called it a “sensible agreement.”

Collins and Murkowski both remain undecided on Kavanaugh and are viewed as potential swing votes. The two senators were “pivotal” and “very involved” in the negotiations that led to postponing the procedural vote on the Senate floor, according to Flake.

“Some of us on the Republican side ... feel more comfortable moving ahead to a final vote once the FBI has done a supplemental background check,” Flake said.

The Arizona senator even opened the door to voting against Kavanaugh, while noting he hopes that Kavanaugh is ultimately confirmed.

“Sure, you bet, that's why we're doing an extended background investigation,” he said when asked if he could vote "no."

Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by JobsOhio - Showdown: Trump-Biden debate likely to be nasty Senate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 Harris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  Susan Collins and the American legacy Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein MORE (W.Va.) — two moderate Democrats in states won by Trump who are up for reelection this year — backed the delay. Both senators voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, in 2017.

“We need to get politics out of this process and allow an independent law enforcement agency to do its job,” Heitkamp tweeted.

But not all senators were pleased with the delay.

“I think we extend a broken process beyond this expiration date,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham dismisses criticism from Fox Business's Lou Dobbs Texas and North Carolina: Democrats on the verge? Trump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report MORE (R-S.C.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “But, Jeff is very sincere, so we're going to see what we can do."

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDallas Morning News poll shows Biden leading Trump in Texas Biden's oil stance jars Democrats in tough races The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 GOP senator, appeared bullish that Kavanaugh would eventually get confirmed, but said that if the allegations sink his nomination it would “forever poison the confirmation process.”

“In a few more days, after a few more delays, we will finally vote to put him there and say enough with the games,” Cornyn said.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFox News president, top anchors advised to quarantine after coronavirus exposure: report Six notable moments from Trump and Biden's '60 Minutes' interviews Biden on attacks on mental fitness: Trump thought '9/11 attack was 7/11 attack' MORE on Friday said he has ordered the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation to update Kavanaugh’s file.

“As the Senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week,” Trump said in a statement released by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Flake noted during Friday’s committee meeting, when senators advanced Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate in an 11-10 party-line vote, that it may not take the FBI a full week.

“I understand that some of these witnesses may not want to discuss anything further, but I think we owe them due diligence,” he said.

Mark Judge, who Christine Blasey Ford said was in the room when Kavanaugh allegedly pinned her to a bed and groped her at a high school party in the early 1980s, said Friday afternoon that he would cooperate with an FBI investigation.

Judge has said he does not recall an incident similar to the one described by Ford.

A delay raises the possibility of more allegations against Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexual misconduct during high school and college by two other women, or more evidence to corroborate existing allegations.

“I think it would threaten confirmation only if they develop strong evidence that Judge Kavanaugh lied to the Senate or committed one of the sexual assaults with which he’s charged,” Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney who teaches at the University of California in both San Diego and Los Angeles, said via email.

Litman said a week is ample time to conduct an investigation of this kind, but it depends on whether the White House, which directs the FBI, is fully cooperative.

The deal to delay moving forward with Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote capped off a dramatic and suspenseful day on Capitol Hill.

The committee meeting started with several Democrats walking out in protest after Republicans scheduled a 1:30 p.m. vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate.

But as the clocked ticked closer to the vote, speculation starting swirling that Flake might flip after reporters spotted him talking with Democratic Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharStart focusing on veterans' health before they enlist Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein MORE (Minn.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning MORE (Del.), both members of the Judiciary Committee.

Many wondered if an uncomfortable exchange with anti-Kavanaugh protesters earlier in the day contributed to Flake’s decision to call for a delay.

On Friday morning, Flake was confronted by two women who said they were victims of sexual assault. They lambasted him for having just announced he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you,” one woman yelled through tears as Flake stood in the corner of the elevator looking down. “You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter, that what happened to me doesn’t matter, that you’re going to let people who do these things into power?”

Flake later told reporters that hearing from multiple people led him to call for the delay.

"I can't pinpoint anything but the emails and calls from friends, colleagues and associates and others who've talked about what this has meant to them,” he said.