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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 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.) 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.

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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 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.), 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 LeahySchumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein 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 HironoSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein MORE (D-Hawaii) ripped into Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Grassley: Voters should be skeptical of Biden's pledge to not raise middle class taxes GOP to Trump: Focus on policy 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 CruzGOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation Texas and North Carolina: Democrats on the verge? Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus 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 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.) 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 WhitehouseSenators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Democrats, gun control groups attack NRA for efforts to reshape judiciary Hillicon Valley: Threatening emails raise election concerns | Quibi folds after raising nearly B | Trump signs law making it a crime to hack voting systems 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 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 (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 FeinsteinDemocrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination The Senate should evoke RBG in its confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Pelosi, Mnuchin push stimulus talks forward, McConnell applies brakes 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 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 (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.