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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 FlakeTanden's path to confirmation looks increasingly untenable On The Money: What's next for Neera Tanden's nomination Manchin to oppose Biden's pick of Neera Tanden 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 MurkowskiKoch-backed group launches ads urging lawmakers to reject COVID-19 relief bill Biden health nominee faces first Senate test White House stands behind Tanden as opposition mounts MORE (R-Alaska) announced her support for a delay before Republican leaders agreed to Flake’s request.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMicrosoft, FireEye push for breach reporting rules after SolarWinds hack On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill 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 HeitkampCentrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives Harrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment Biden to tap Vilsack for Agriculture secretary: reports MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinHoyer: House will vote on COVID-19 relief bill Friday Haaland courts moderates during tense Senate confirmation hearing Democrats in standoff over minimum wage 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 GrahamProgressive support builds for expanding lower courts McConnell backs Garland for attorney general Senate GOP campaign chief talks strategy with Trump 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 CornynProgressive support builds for expanding lower courts McConnell backs Garland for attorney general Garland seeks to draw sharp contrast with Trump-era DOJ 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 TrumpRomney: 'Pretty sure' Trump would win 2024 GOP nomination if he ran for president Pence huddles with senior members of Republican Study Committee Trump says 'no doubt' Tiger Woods will be back after accident 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 KlobucharFive big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings Top cops deflect blame over Capitol attack Ex-Capitol Police chief did not get FBI report warning of violence on Jan. 6 MORE (Minn.) and Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsPelosi's '9/11-type' commission to investigate Capitol riot could prove dangerous for Democrats Key players to watch in minimum wage fight Sunday shows - Trump acquittal in second impeachment trial reverberates 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.