Kavanaugh’s path to confirmation begins to solidify

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s path to confirmation appeared to solidify on Thursday after two key Republican senators praised an FBI report and said it did not find evidence corroborating the sexual assault allegations against him.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeDemocrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE (Ariz.) on Thursday said senators had seen “no new credible corroboration, no new corroboration at all.”

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A second pivotal undecided GOP vote, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates Democratic challenger to Susan Collins announces Senate bid MORE (Maine), said the report appeared to be “very thorough.”

Collins returned to the secured room containing the FBI documents about noon. An aide estimated she would be in there for at least an hour.

“I think Susan Collins was quoted saying it was very thorough but no new corroborative information came out of it. That’s accurate,” Flake told reporters after reviewing the FBI report in a secure room in the Capitol Visitor Center.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Klobuchar, Murkowski introduce legislation to protect consumer health data MORE (Alaska), the third undecided Republican in the spotlight, told reporters that she did not attend a Thursday morning briefing for Republican senators on the report.

“I think it is important that all who wish to read it get that opportunity, and I’m taking my opportunity now. I’m looking forward to it,” she said.

Murkowski and Collins both took a back exit to get out of the room where the FBI's report is being held. Murkowski told reporters that she's still reviewing it. Collins, escorted by GOP Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHouse passes bill to establish DHS cyber 'first responder' teams House passes bill to establish DHS cyber 'first responder' teams Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump MORE (Ohio), declined to answer questions as she was trailed by several reporters into the Capitol Visitors Center and up an escalator. 

Republicans need at least two of the undecided GOP senators to vote for Kavanaugh if they do not win over any Democrats.

The GOP trio were instrumental last week in persuading Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Ky.) to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote for a week to give the FBI more time to investigate. 

None of the three announced support for Kavanaugh on Thursday morning, but their comments about the FBI report were widely interpreted as positive signs for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE’s nominee. Kavanaugh’s nomination has been on a roller coaster ride for weeks, one that has seen him go from a shoo-in for confirmation to facing seemingly tough odds.

In the latest dramatic turn in the controversy, Flake emerged minutes before the Judiciary panel was set to approve the nomination last week to say he had asked for more time for the FBI to investigate.

On Thursday, Flake sounded like he was at least closer to moving on.

“I wanted this pause, we’ve had this pause,” said Flake, who voted “yes” for Kavanaugh at the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. “Thus far we’ve seen no new credible corroboration, no new corroboration at all.”

Other Republicans sounded confident that the Senate could vote to end debate on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Friday, with a final vote possible on Saturday.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynTrump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Trump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Overnight Health Care: Pelosi to change drug-pricing plan after complaints | 2020 Democrats to attend Planned Parenthood abortion forum | House holds first major 'Medicare for All' hearing MORE (Texas) said Thursday afternoon that he now expects to have enough Republican votes to confirm Kavanaugh. He also called the extra week allowing the FBI investigation “helpful.”

“I’m optimistic. We’ve done what Sen. Collins, Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Flake requested. And I think there was no new information. I think it was helpful to go through that process now in retrospect, so I’m optimistic,” he said. 

Cornyn said he expects the Senate to vote on Friday about 10 a.m. on a procedural motion to end debate on Kavanaugh and for a final confirmation vote to take place Saturday afternoon. 

Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement early Thursday that the White House is now "fully confident the Senate will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.”

Democrats were widely critical of the FBI report, arguing not enough witnesses were interviewed.

“This confirmed my concerns, in fact my fears, that this would be a constrained set of investigations that did not include relevant witnesses,” said Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe generational divide of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party Booker, O'Rourke, Buttigieg rally with striking McDonald's workers in South Carolina Booker, O'Rourke, Buttigieg rally with striking McDonald's workers in South Carolina MORE (D-N.J.).

Two Democrats, Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampLobbying World Pro-trade group targets Democratic leadership in push for new NAFTA On 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 MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump takes heat for remarks on help from foreign governments The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump takes heat for remarks on help from foreign governments The Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle MORE (W.Va.), are undecided on Kavanaugh. Both face tough reelection races in states where Trump is popular and are believed to be holding out on the decisions of the undecided Republicans.

An aide blocked reporters from trying to ask Heitkamp questions as she left the secured room and walked through the Senate basement. 

Manchin told The Hill earlier this week that the FBI investigation would weigh heavily on his decision. 

“This investigation’s going to tell a lot,” he said. 

A poll by Public Opinion Strategies, a GOP polling firm, last week found that 58 percent of polled West Virginians support Kavanaugh’s nomination while 28 percent opposed it. 

Democratic leaders blasted the White House and Senate GOP for not giving the FBI enough time for its investigation.

“We had many fears that this was a very limited process that would constrain the FBI from getting the facts. ... Those fears have been realized,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw US women's soccer team reignites equal pay push MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Thursday. 

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrump remarks deepen distrust with intelligence community Trump remarks deepen distrust with intelligence community US women's soccer team reignites equal pay push MORE (Calif.), the top-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, characterized the FBI's investigation as "incomplete," floating that it might have been "limited" by the White House.

McConnell touted the FBI’s findings in a floor speech Thursday, noting it was the seventh background investigation of the nominee. 

“None of the allegations have been corroborated by the seventh FBI investigation,” he said. “Neither the Judiciary Committee nor the FBI could locate any third parties who can attest to any of these allegations." 

“No backup from any witnesses, including those specifically named as eyewitnesses by the people who brought the allegations in the first place,” he added. 

The FBI interviewed 10 additional witnesses in the past several days to assess the claims of Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh assaulted her at a high school party more than 30 years ago.

Agents spoke with three people who Ford says was at the house when the incident occurred: Mark Judge, who Ford said was in the room at the time, Patrick J. Smyth and Leland Keyser.

None of the three have said they recollect the attack, though Keyser has said she believes Ford.

Agents also spoke with Deborah Ramirez who told The New Yorker magazine that Kavanaugh exposed his genitals to her at a drunken Yale dorm room party. 

The FBI did not talk to Kavanaugh or Ford.

Murkowski, Collins and Flake are under enormous pressure to vote with their party on Kavanaugh.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) was noncommittal on whether the Republicans would all back Kavanaugh.

“I would never tell Susan or Jeff how to vote or Lisa. They need to follow their hearts. I just want them to take their brains with them,” he said.

A senior Democratic aide said Collins's statement praising the FBI report was a clear sign that she will vote "yes."

"She's been looking for a way to get to 'yes,' " said the aide. "She's worried about a primary in 2020," referring to the year when she's next up for reelection.