After a dramatic hour in the Senate Judiciary Committee as senators from both parties huddled off the committee in an anteroom, Flake said he would vote for Kavanaugh, if the FBI investigates of multiple allegations of sexual assault made against the nominee.
“I have been speaking with a number of people on the other side,” he said. “We had conversations ongoing for a while to making sure that we do due diligence here, and I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to but not more than one week in order to let the FBI continue to do an investigation, limited in time and scope to the current allegations that are there and limit in time to no more than one week.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said they support Flake’s demand. The decision to adjust the schedule is ultimately up to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), whose office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Democrats have pushed for the investigation, even asking Kavanaugh during his hearing on Thursday to ask for one. Flake, on Friday, said they have a point that it should be done.
After the meeting concluded, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told reporters Flake approached him to ask about the idea of a short FBI investigation. They were joined by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and then senators from both side of the aisle to discuss how to proceed.
Some Republicans on the committee tried to dissuade him from the action, Coons said, but were unable to change his mind.
“There was a broad agreement that this committee has been too divided and too partisan in this process,” he said. “[There was] a hope that by having the FBI look into these allegations for just a few more days, limiting scope and time, that we can both show respect for the victims who have come forward with allegations and give Judge Kavanaugh some prospect of his name being cleared in some ways before final vote and give the members of the committee and of the Senate some reason to have more confidence before proceeding to a final vote.”
Flake’s decision was shocking, in part because he already announced his decision to support Kavanaugh. “I believe that the constitution’s provisions of fairness and due process apply here as well. I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh,” he said in a statement before the hearing began.
But on the way to the hearing, Flake was confronted by a woman who said she was a survivor of sexual assault and tearfully denounced his decision.
“Don’t look away from me,” Maria Gallagher told at Flake in an elevator. “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.”
As the vote scheduled for 1:30 p.m. approached, Flake got up from his seat, tapped Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Coons on the shoulders and the three stepped outside.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether his encounter in the elevator influenced his change of heart.
The drama inside the committee room comes the day after a gut-wrenching hearing featuring testimony from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who has accused him of sexual assault when the two were in high school. Another woman accuses Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her when the two were at Yale.
With Flake’s caveat, Kavanaugh was voted favorably out of committee along party lines, with all Republicans for him and all Democrats against.
Even before Flake’s bombshell, the morning meeting before the vote exposed strong, hard feelings about how yesterday’s hearing had transpired.
Democrats, one by one, decried the process, but particularly the decision by Senate Republicans to not hear testimony from Mark Judge, the man Ford said was in the room when she says Kavanaugh attacked her in 1982. Republicans, too, decried the process as “cruel,” “reckless,” and unfair to both Ford and Kavanaugh.
When Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) began a procedural vote to move on to an official vote in the committee later that day, several Democrats refused to vote. When scolded by Grassley, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Kamala Harris (CA), Mazie Hirono (HI) and Richard Blumenthal (CT) got up and walked out in protest. Whitehouse later returned to the room.
Sen. Feinstein called Kavanaugh’s decision to launch into partisan attacks on the Democratic members of the committee at Thursday’s hearing “unbelievable.”
“Judge Kavanaugh used as much political rhetoric as my Republican colleagues, and what's more, he went on the attack,” she said. “He yelled at Democrats for having the temerity to express our frustration for not having access to over 90 percent of his record.”
“This was not someone who reflected an impartial temperament or the fairness and even-handedness one would see in a judge,” Feinstein continued. This was someone who was aggressive and belligerent.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said Republicans were rushing the process because they simply didn’t want anything else about Kavanaugh to surface.
“They don’t want to hear women who have relevant evidence,” Leahy said. “Is that what the Senate Judiciary Committee has lowered itself to?”
“There were no winners in this room yesterday,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA). “All I saw where two people in pain.”
While protesters screamed outside the meeting on Friday morning, there were also quiet protests inside. More than a dozen Democratic House members, most of them female, stood as the first vote was called.
Capitol Police approached them and asked them to sit. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) told the officer they were members of Congress, the officer quietly apologized and repeated they would have to sit or be removed from the room.
Should McConnell agree to delay the vote, Kavanaugh’s fate now rests with the full Senate, where Murkowski, Manchin and Sen. Susan Collins (R-MA) remain undecided.