The Senate Judiciary Committee will once again be the scene of a national drama Friday as its members prepare to vote on President Donald Trump’s embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Senate Republicans do not currently have the votes to confirm Kavanaugh, multiple senior aides and senators tell CNN. But GOP leaders see a path to 50 votes — meaning they could lose one Republican and have Vice President Mike Pence break a potential tie — so they’re going to gamble with a damaged nominee who is viscerally opposed by Democrats.
The developments — coming in the wake of Thursday’s shattering hearing in which accusations and denials of sexual assault were made and vitriolic partisanship consumed the Senate — forebode coming days of high drama on Capitol Hill, with the prospect of a conservative Supreme Court in the balance.
Friday’s scheduled vote at 9:30 a.m. ET will be the first step in a series of votes to determine whether conservatives lock in a favorable court for a generation with a 5-4 majority. After the committee votes, the current plan is to hold a procedural vote on the Senate floor midday Saturday and hold the final vote early next week.
But a day after Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford testified, it’s not clear whether committee Republicans have the votes to move Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate, with Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona appearing to be the swing vote on a panel with 11 GOP members and 10 Democrats.
Senior GOP aides were confident Thursday night that Flake would vote yes, but he told CNN’s Kristin Wilson he was genuinely torn and undecided.
If the Arizona Republican were to vote against Kavanaugh, it would force the Judiciary Committee to report out the nomination unfavorably. That wouldn’t doom Kavanaugh, but it would be embarrassing to Republicans and require them to hold onto the remaining 50 Republican senators.
In the full Senate, GOP leaders have 48 solid yes votes. Three Republicans — Flake, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — and three Democrats in red states — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — hold the future of Kavanaugh’s nomination in their hands.
Murkowski, Collins, Flake and Manchin huddled in a Capitol Hill office following the hearing Thursday. When they emerged, they would only tell reporters they were undecided and wanted to think about their impending decision.
Aides have made clear none of these six senators have made any commitments yet on how they will vote, and Republican leaders are quite literally in the dark at this moment.
During an intense, day-long hearing Thursday, Ford, a California professor, testified that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were both teenagers in the early 1980s. Kavanaugh later offered a vociferous and emotional defense, alternately shouting and tearing up on national television.
On Thursday, Ford told the committee she is “100%” certain it was Kavanaugh who attacked her at a party when the two were teenagers in 1982.
As the nation watched, she said she “believed he was going to rape me.” She told senators it has “haunted me episodically as an adult.”
Then, Kavanaugh denied that allegation and other accusations of sexual misconduct he has faced in recent days. He blamed Democrats for what he said was a “calculated and orchestrated political hit” designed to keep him off the Supreme Court. He also refused to support a Democratic push for an FBI investigation of the allegations.
“I’ve never done this,” Kavanaugh said of Ford’s assault charge. “It’s not who I am. I am innocent.”
Late Thursday night, the American Bar Association took the extraordinary step of recommending the Senate Judiciary Committee pause on Kavanaugh’s nomination until a FBI probe into the allegations is completed. The association had previously given Kavanaugh a unanimous “well-qualified” rating, its highest rating.
“The basic principles that underscore the Senate’s constitutional duty of advice and consent on federal judicial nominees require nothing less than a careful examination of the accusations and facts by the FBI,” said Robert Carlson, president of the organization, in a Thursday night letter addressed to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein.
“Each appointment to our nation’s Highest Court (as with all others) is simply too important to rush to a vote,” Carlson wrote. “Deciding to proceed without conducting additional investigation would not only have a lasting impact on the Senate’s reputation, but it will also negatively affect the great trust necessary for the American people to have in the Supreme Court.”