Senate GOP coy on when final vote on Kavanaugh will happen

Senate GOP coy on when final vote on Kavanaugh will happen
© Greg Nash

Republicans are navigating a political minefield as they try to steer the Senate toward a vote this week on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.

GOP leadership wants to take up the nomination by the end of the week, and senators say they have been told to be “on call” to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination during a rare weekend session. But they’ve been wary of publicly locking down a timetable for floor action — beyond saying a vote will take place “this week.”

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A specific timing plan could spook swing votes and/or look like they are rushing the FBI to wrap up its ongoing investigation on Kavanaugh.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Overnight Defense: Senate moves toward vote on bill ending support for Saudi war | House GOP blocks Yemen war votes for rest of year | Trump throws uncertainty into Pentagon budget | Key Dem to leave transgender troop ban to courts Senate moves toward vote on ending support for Saudi-led war MORE (R-Ky.) dodged questions about a timeline when pressed by reporters on Tuesday.

“I’m not going to answer all these hypotheticals. You all know how it works. After you file cloture you have a two-day wait, so it’s not like filing cloture produces an immediate vote,” McConnell told reporters. “What I can tell you with certainty is we’ll have an FBI report this week and we’ll have a vote this week.”

Under a deal spearheaded by Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePence casts tie-breaking vote for Trump appeals court judge Dem: 'Disheartening' that Republicans who 'stepped up' to defend Mueller are leaving Flake: Republican Party ‘is a frog slowly boiling in water’ MORE (R-Ariz.), the FBI has until Friday to wrap up its investigation into the sexual assault allegations that have thrown Kavanaugh’s nomination into limbo.

But if McConnell wants to get a final vote done by the end of the week, he would either need to file cloture on Wednesday or Thursday or get an unlikely deal with all senators. Filing cloture Wednesday would set up a vote on ending debate as early as Friday and a final vote likely on Saturday. Waiting until Thursday would push that time frame back a day.

Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGOP senators introduce bill to give Trump billion for border wall Farmers sticking with Trump, says GOP senator South Dakota New Members 2019 MORE (R-S.D.) said McConnell didn’t specify during a closed-door lunch on Tuesday when he would file cloture but said senators have been told they are “on call” to work through the weekend on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynCongress strikes deal on bill for sexual harassment cases involving lawmakers The Hill's Morning Report — Takeaways from the battle royal in the Oval Office Senate poised to buck Trump on Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Texas) also opened the door to a weekend session, saying McConnell “wants to get this wrapped up this week.”

But McConnell has to balance his timeline with any concerns from within his own caucus, including from Flake and GOP Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate advances Trump energy pick after Manchin flips The Senate must reject Bernard McNamee’s nomination for FERC Overnight Defense: Congress pauses to mourn George H.W. Bush | Haspel to brief senators on Khashoggi killing | Soldier is fourth to die from Afghan IED blast MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate votes to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure Trump attorney general pick a prolific donor to GOP candidates, groups: report Lobbying World MORE (Maine), where any two Republican senators are able to complicate his plan should all Democrats vote “no.”

McConnell wouldn’t rule out that he could file cloture on Kavanaugh’s nomination before the FBI finishes its report and that he also wanted to hear from vulnerable Democratic incumbents.

“That’s a decision that I make, and of course we’re interested in hearing from Sen. [Joe] Manchin [D-W.Va.] and Sen. [Heidi] Heitkamp [D-N.D.] and Sen. [Joe] Donnelly [D-Ind.],” McConnell said when asked if the three swing-vote GOP senators had told him they were “comfortable” with him filing cloture before they see the FBI’s report.

Flake initially described the agreement with leadership as waiting to bring up a cloture vote until the FBI had completed its report, appearing open to McConnell filing cloture and beginning to eat up the days of time required before an initial vote can take place.

“I believe that the timeline that was played out anticipates that cloture would be filed,” Collins separately told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

But it wouldn’t be the first time that demands from swing-vote GOP senators had forced Republicans and the White House to adjust their strategy on Kavanaugh. Republicans had repeatedly shot down the need for a supplemental FBI investigation before making a political U-turn Friday amid pressure from their own caucus.

The FBI probe was initially expected to be limited to allegations from Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, but the White House agreed Monday to allow the FBI to expand it to include anyone the agency deems appropriate.

Murkowski told reporters that she had been in touch with the White House and had “been assured that they’re conducting this background investigation as they do all background investigations, allowing for the investigation to take its course.”

Asked if she would be OK voting if the FBI’s work slips past Friday, Murkowski added: “I don’t know what the status of the FBI report, and I think what we need to do is wait for the FBI to conclude its report.”

Cornyn has noted that leadership is trying to be responsive to the needs from their own caucus.

“I’m not going to speculate. I think it’s important to make sure that people understand that we’ve done what has been asked,” Cornyn said, asked if McConnell could file cloture before the FBI finishes its report. “Obviously that’s a sensitive issue for a number of senators.”

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Senate moves toward vote on ending support for Saudi-led war McConnell urges opposition to bill ending US support for Saudi war MORE (R-Tenn.) pushed back against a suggestion that Republicans had used the closed-door lunch on Tuesday to try to pressure undecided senators.

“It wasn’t like that. ... None of that. Just discussions about where we are,” he said.

Kavanaugh’s nomination is fraught with potential political land mines for Republican senators.

Trump on Tuesday said it was a “very scary time” for men in America, renewing questions about his attitude toward the “Me Too” movement that has toppled influential figures both off and on Capitol Hill.

“It is a very scary time for young men in America, when you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn before leaving the White House.

Trump’s remarks come as Kavanaugh has been trailed by lukewarm approval ratings and Republicans are worried that female voters will turn against them in the midterm election.

A Morning Consult–Politico poll released last week found that support for Kavanaugh among GOP women had dropped 11 percentage points — from 60 percent to 49 percent. And it comes as protesters and female sexual assault victims have increasingly confronted Republican senators on Capitol Hill. One protester trailed both Flake and Murkowski out of an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Republicans are aware of the outside optics of the Supreme Court fight. They indicated on Tuesday that they hoped the FBI would be able to share some public information about its findings and defuse the tensions sparked by the allegations against Kavanaugh.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the FBI was finished as soon as Wednesday. Corker added that senators would “hopefully” get the FBI’s report on Wednesday.

“I know a lot about sexual assault. The thought that we don’t care about that is ridiculous,” Corker said, appearing to briefly choke up while speaking with reporters. “I’m afraid if somehow or another we don’t make [the report] public both sides will be very selective with what they share with y’all.”