WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters today that he couldn’t pick one overwhelming reason why he changed his mind within the course of less than a day from vowing to vote for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to threatening to block the judge’s confirmation.
After demanding a weeklong FBI probe of sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, Flake told reporters that he’d tossed and turned through sleepless nights over what to do about the nomination.
He called it “remarkable” how people “were emboldened to come out and say what happened to them” over the past week after hearing Christine Blasey Ford’s account. “I’ve heard from friends, close friends, and I had no idea,” he said. Between his morning statement declaring support for Kavanaugh and the early afternoon Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at which Flake demanded an investigation, two survivors of sexual assault confronted Flake on camera in the Senate elevator.
While unable to pinpoint one determining factor, Flake said it was also a matter of process.
“I wanted to support him. I’m a conservative, he’s a conservative judge. But I want a process we can be proud of,” Flake said. “And I think the country needs to be behind it. And we need a more bipartisan process. That’s why this is important.”
The White House issued a statement from President Trump saying he’d “ordered the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation to update Judge Kavanaugh’s file.”
“As the Senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week,” Trump said.
While the “gentleman’s agreement” Flake worked out with committee Dems wasn’t a formal deal, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acquiesced to opening an investigation because with the defections of Flake and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who backed Flake’s move, there weren’t the votes to confirm Kavanaugh.
After Flake’s announcement at the Judiciary Committee, Republicans headed over to McConnell’s office where a delay of the final floor vote was soon agreed upon.
“The evidence that has been produced either fails — fails — to corroborate these accusations, or in fact supports Judge Kavanaugh’s unequivocal denial,” McConnell said on the Senate floor today.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) this evening described to CNN the last-minute behind-the-scenes talks that led to Flake forcing a delay.
“Senator Flake conveyed to me that he still had doubts and that he was listening to the argument that I and others were making that we should take one week for a limited in scope and duration further background investigation,” Coons said.
“I frankly thought that we were going to go in the anteroom and just have a conversation about how while we respect each other as senators and hope to remain friends, that this was a pretty bitter moment for both of us because each of us is on the other side of what ought to happen with Judge Kavanaugh,” he added. “I was — I’m so encouraged when he said to me… this whole thing is tearing our country apart and we have to do something. We have to do something to show that we can hear each other and the argument you’re making, if we can find a way to set the parameters right, is something that we ought to consider doing.”
Coons said he and Flake were discussing the possibility for a few minutes “and then a second senator, and then a third, and a fourth came back, and we had virtually the whole committee back there having a very vigorous argument.”
He called arriving at the agreement “exceptionally difficult because, frankly, some of the sharpest partisans on the committee came back and really leaned on Senator Flake very hard to say this is ridiculous, this process is over… and there were others who were arguing forcefully, the other side, and then accusations started going back and forth about what Democrats were really trying to do, what Republicans were really trying to do.”
Through the arguments, “Flake was very stoic,” Coons recalled.
“You know, you saw the result which was that he came out and stood firm. You know, this really, frankly, is all hanging on his willingness. He voted to move forward with the committee process to show good faith with his caucus,” he said. “…The central issue that got us to this moment was Dr. Ford’s testimony in front of the committee. It was the fact that by the end of the time she testified, there were real doubts. There were concerns on the part of several senators on and off committee who were left uncomfortable with the idea that we would push forward with Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination without any further investigation of her allegations. So, I do think that’s really central to this.”