How Flake came to secure Kavanaugh delay

At a crucial moment during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s rancorous debate on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, 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.) realized he had to act and ducked out of the hearing room.

Kavanaugh’s nomination appeared to have momentum after Flake, who was the only undecided member of the Judiciary Committee, announced Friday morning he would vote "yes," because he felt that Christine Blasey Ford wasn’t able to corroborate her sexual assault claim against the nominee.

But moments after Flake issued his statement arguing that Kavanaugh deserved the presumption of innocence, the Arizona Republican was confronted outside his Senate office by angry protesters, including two women who described themselves as victims of sexual assault.

“I wanted him to feel my rage,” one of the women, Ana Maria Archila, later told The New York Times.

ADVERTISEMENT

When Flake arrived at the committee room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, he was confronted by one of his best friends in the Democratic caucus, Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain Sixteen years later, let's finally heed the call of the 9/11 Commission  Senate Dems introduce bill demanding report on Khashoggi killing MORE (Del.), who angrily expressed what a mistake it was, in his view, to back Kavanaugh.

“Just before I went in into our committee meeting I was informed that my friend Sen. Flake had decided to vote yes on Judge Kavanaugh and I was perhaps inappropriately — I gave a response that expressed my dismay at that,” Coons later told reporters, self-censoring his conversation. 

The normally polite Coons blurted out “Oh f---!” to a CNN reporter when he heard about Flake’s decision.

Flake later acknowledged to reporters that weeks of pressure from protesters had begun to have an impact on him and his colleagues, but he declined to attribute his change of mind to any one factor. 

Asked about the protesters, he said, "This whole past two weeks has been quite something. It's had an impact on a lot of people."  

"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 when pressed. 

As the debate among Judiciary Committee members grew increasingly caustic on Friday morning, Flake kept his eyes mostly fixed downward, looking flushed. 

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyTop Senate Dem to Trump: It would be a 'grave mistake' to follow in Richard Nixon's footsteps Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Hillicon Valley: Mueller delivers report, ending investigation | FEMA exposed info of 2.3M disaster survivors | Facebook asks judge to toss DC privacy lawsuit | Trump picks his first CTO | FCC settles lawsuit over net neutrality records MORE (Vt.), who came to the Senate in 1975 and is the longest-serving Democrat on the panel, blasted Republicans for rushing through Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“We’re an arm … a very weak arm of the Trump White House," he thundered. “Every semblance of independence has disappeared. It’s gone."

The barb seemed directed at Flake, who has clashed with Trump throughout the 115th Congress and has called on GOP colleagues to push back more forcefully against Trump and what he called his “reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior.”

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoCitizens lose when partisans play politics with the federal judiciary Warren, Harris, Gillibrand back efforts to add justices to Supreme Court Liberal commentator: Trump's warning that supporters could play tough is a 'violent dog whistle' MORE (D-Hawaii) ripped into Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTreasury expands penalty relief to more taxpayers Overnight Health Care: Senators seek CBO input on preventing surprise medical bills | Oversight panel seeks OxyContin documents | Pharmacy middlemen to testify on prices | Watchdog warns air ambulances can put patients at 'financial risk' Drug prices are a matter of life and death MORE's (R-Iowa) decision to hold at vote at 1:30 p.m., calling it “totally ridiculous” and “a railroad job.”

“My answer is no, no, no!” she yelled, leaving the room in protest.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzNunes on Mueller report: 'We can just burn it up' 18 state attorneys general call on Justice Dept to release Mueller report Lawmakers clash over whether conclusion of Mueller investigation signals no collusion MORE (R-Texas) railed at Democrats for engaging in what he called the “politics of personal destruction.”

The comments came after Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamConservation remains a core conservative principle Graham: McCain 'acted appropriately' by handing Steele dossier to FBI The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems eye next stage in Mueller fight MORE (R-S.C.) exploded at Democrats' tactics during Thursday's hearing with Kavanaugh, jabbing his finger in the air and accusing them of an “unethical sham.”

When it became Coons’s turn to speak during debate on Friday, he warned that pushing Kavanaugh through the committee without further investigation would inflict lasting damage on the institution.

“My concern was that by bulling through this nomination without any investigation it would send the wrong signal and leave a cloud over Judge Kavanaugh,” Coons said.

The bitter sniping between members had started to take a toll on Flake, as it did on other committee members, who vented their frustration to each other in the Judiciary panel's antechamber.

The ugliness of Thursday’s hearing only seemed to underscore the negative atmosphere on the committee.

Democrats repeatedly questioned Kavanaugh during the hearing about references in his high school yearbook to heavy drinking and partying.

Kavanaugh — who used his opening statement to blast Democrats, accusing them of twisting their mission of "advice and consent" to "search and destroy" — made no effort to hide his anger and lashed out several times at members of the panel.

At one point he badgered Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseGreen New Deal vote tests Dem unity in Senate Dems introduce bill requiring disclosure of guest logs from White House, Trump properties Sanders announces first staff hires in Iowa, New Hampshire MORE (D-R.I.) about what kind of alcohol he preferred drinking, asking, “Do you like beer, senator? What do you like to drink?”

When Whitehouse ignored his question, Kavanaugh repeated, “Senator, what do you like to drink?”

And when Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharKlobuchar pressing Barr on release of Mueller report Green New Deal vote tests Dem unity in Senate Why do so many Democrats embrace hate speech? MORE (D-Minn.) pressed him on whether he had ever blacked out from drinking, Kavanaugh shot back, “no” and then asked “Have you?”

Kavanaugh later apologized, saying, "This is a tough process." Klobuchar, who said she appreciated the apology, noted that she has a parent who was an alcoholic.

Flake left Thursday’s hearing undecided about what to do, telling colleagues at the end of the day “there is likely to be as much doubt as certainty leaving this room today.”

While one Republican after another on the committee defended Kavanaugh on Friday ahead of a scheduled vote, Flake sat silent before popping out of his chair and heading to a room next to the chamber. He later summoned Coons to join him in the anteroom to figure out a way forward.

Flake eventually emerged and asked Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThis week: Congress set for next stage of Mueller probe fight Dem senator: 'Appropriate' for Barr, Mueller to testify publicly about Russia probe GOP lawmaker offers constitutional amendment capping Supreme Court seats at 9 MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the panel, whom Republicans repeatedly assailed throughout the hearing Thursday, to join him for another private talk in the back room.

They soon hatched an agreement to delay Kavanaugh’s nomination for a week to give the FBI more time to investigate the sexual assault claims against him.

As word spread of the emerging deal, almost every Republican got up from his seat to talk to Flake in the back room in hopes of shaking him off his position.

Coons said GOP colleagues “vigorously” tried to change Flake’s mind. 

Senate Republican Whip 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 (Texas), a member of the panel, has repeatedly warned that further delaying Kavanaugh’s nomination would only encourage additional uncorroborated allegations to pop up.

Kavanaugh lambasted the committee Thursday for making him wait for 10 days before giving him a chance to clear his name. During that period, at least two other women came forward publicly to accuse him of sexual misconduct stemming from his time in high school and college, allegations he has also flatly denied.

When Flake finally emerged from the back room on Friday, he asked Grassley for a point of personal privilege to ask for a truce among committee members. 

He proposed delaying Kavanaugh’s floor vote for a week to give the FBI time to investigate Ford’s allegation, while asking Democrats in return to ease up on their condemnation of Republicans’ handling of the nomination.

Grassley relented, and Flake joined other Republicans on the panel to vote to advance the nominee to the full Senate, pending the weeklong FBI investigation.