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 FlakeCruz to get Nord Stream 2 vote as part of deal on Biden nominees Democrats threaten to play hardball over Cruz's blockade Rubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees 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 CollinsBipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law The Hill's Morning Report - US warns Kremlin, weighs more troops to Europe Democrats face scaled-back agenda after setbacks 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 MurkowskiBipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law There is a bipartisan path forward on election and voter protections Trump sold off the Arctic Refuge — Congress must end this risky boondoggle 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 PortmanSenators huddle on Russia sanctions as tensions escalate Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law Democrats face scaled-back agenda after setbacks 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 McConnellSchumer requests Senate briefing on Ukraine amid Russia tensions Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law There is a bipartisan path forward on election and voter protections 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 TrumpFormer New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dead at 77 Biden, Democrats losing ground with independent and suburban voters: poll Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law 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 CornynSenators huddle on Russia sanctions as tensions escalate Momentum builds for new COVID-19 relief for businesses Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products 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 BookerDespite Senate setbacks, the fight for voting rights is far from over Small ranchers say Biden letting them get squeezed Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (D-N.J.).

Two Democrats, Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp11 former Democratic senators call for 'meaningful reform to Senate rules' Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies Virginia loss lays bare Democrats' struggle with rural voters MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinEven working piecemeal, Democrats need a full agenda for children Poll: 30 percent of Americans say they approve of the job Congress is doing Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law 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 SchumerChuck SchumerVoting rights failed in the Senate — where do we go from here? Forced deadline spurs drastic tactic in Congress Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Thursday. 

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinOvernight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Eight senators ask Biden to reverse course on Trump-era solar tariffs 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 KennedyLouisiana Democrat running for US Senate smokes marijuana in campaign ad MORE (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.