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 FlakeSen. Coons examines Amazon's privacy and data security practices for Alexa devices Oil companies join blitz for carbon tax The Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget 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 MurkowskiMurkowski celebrates birthday with electric scooter ride Overnight Energy: Park Service plans to pay full-time staff through entrance fees | Oil companies join blitz for carbon tax | Interior chief takes heat for saying he hasn't 'lost sleep' over climate change Democrats grill Trump Interior chief for saying he hasn't 'lost sleep' over climate change MORE (R-Alaska) announced her support for a delay before Republican leaders agreed to Flake’s request.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights 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 HeitkampOn The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Former senators launching effort to help Dems win rural votes MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Labor head warns of 'frightening uptick' in black lung disease among miners 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 GrahamNew Yorker cover titled 'The Shining' shows Graham, McConnell, Barr polishing Trump's shoes Graham: 'US must be willing to intervene in Venezuela' Trump Jr. slams Republican committee chairman: 'Too weak to stand up to the Democrats' 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 CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Bipartisan House bill calls for strategy to protect 5G networks from foreign threats Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' 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 TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' 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 Klobuchar2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Samantha Bee slams 2020 Democrats who go on Fox News Poll: Harris, Warren climb as Biden maintains lead MORE (Minn.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOil companies join blitz for carbon tax Mnuchin says carbon capture tax credit guidance will be out soon Mnuchin signals administration won't comply with subpoena for Trump tax returns 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.