Senate

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 Flake (Ariz.) on Thursday said senators had seen “no new credible corroboration, no new corroboration at all.”

{mosads}A second pivotal undecided GOP vote, Sen. Susan Collins (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 Murkowski (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 Portman (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 McConnell (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 Trump’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 Cornyn (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 Booker (D-N.J.).

Two Democrats, Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (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 Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Thursday. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (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 Kennedy (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. 

Tags Charles Schumer Cory Booker Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Heidi Heitkamp Jeff Flake Joe Manchin John Cornyn John Kennedy Lisa Murkowski Mitch McConnell Rob Portman Susan Collins
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