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 FlakeTrump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar Trump keeps tight grip on GOP 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 MurkowskiRed dresses displayed around American Indian museum to memorialize missing, murdered native women Juan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration MORE (R-Alaska) announced her support for a delay before Republican leaders agreed to Flake’s request.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks Overnight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' 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 HeitkampRed dresses displayed around American Indian museum to memorialize missing, murdered native women Lobbying World Lobbying World MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinManchin says he won't support LGBTQ protection bill as written Senators offer bipartisan bill to fix 'retail glitch' in GOP tax law Murkowski, Manchin call for 'responsible solutions' to climate change 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 GrahamDem senator: 'Appropriate' for Barr, Mueller to testify publicly about Russia probe Conservatives wage assault on Mueller report Graham expects 'thorough' briefing on Mueller 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 CornynConservatives wage assault on Mueller report Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks GOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 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 TrumpMueller report findings could be a 'good day' for Trump, Dem senator says Trump officials heading to China for trade talks next week Showdown looms over Mueller report 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 Jean KlobucharHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Harris wants Barr to testify on Mueller report as 2020 Dems call for its release MORE (Minn.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMueller report findings could be a 'good day' for Trump, Dem senator says Dem senator: 'Appropriate' for Barr, Mueller to testify publicly about Russia probe Coons after Russia probe: House Dems need to use power in 'focused and responsible way' 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.