WASHINGTON — Huddling with committee Dems before the vote, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) ultimately declared that he would vote to pass Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh out of the Senate Judiciary Committee but would not support a floor vote in the full Senate until the FBI investigates sexual assault allegations against the judge.
Flake originally said in a morning statement that he would vote to support Kavanaugh. “What I do know is that our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence. That is what binds us to the rule of law,” he said. “While some may argue that a different standard should apply regarding the Senate’s advice and consent responsibilities, I believe that the constitution’s provisions of fairness and due process apply here as well.”
Then Flake was confronted at the Senate elevator by two survivors of sexual assault: Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher.
“You’re telling me my assault doesn’t matter,” Gallagher told Flake. “You’re letting people who do these things into power. That’s what you’re telling me when you vote for him. Don’t look away from me. 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.”
“You’re allowing someone who is unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions … you are allowing someone to take responsibility for his own actions to sit in the highest court in the country and to have the role of repairing the harm that has been done in this country to many people,” Archila said.
Flake listened quietly to the pair and thanked the women before excusing himself to get to the hearing.
Flake walked out of the committee meeting and motioned for Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who told reporters afterward that the two share “a deep concern for the health of this institution,” to follow. The two conducted backroom discussions on how to move forward, joined by other Dems.
After all senators were back in the room, Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) recognized Flake to speak.
“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 to do an investigation limited in time and scope,” Flake said.
Flake said he would advance the nomination at the committee level “with that understanding” that the floor vote would be delayed in order to reopen the background investigation. He said he has spoken “to a few other members on my side of the aisle who support it as well.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) planned a procedural vote for Saturday, which would set up a floor vote for Tuesday.
Even if McConnell doesn’t agree to a delay based on the Flake deal, Kavanaugh’s nomination wouldn’t advance if there aren’t enough GOP votes. If no Dems cross over, Flake votes “no” on the floor, and either Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) or Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) join him, then Kavanaugh’s nomination will fail.
On her way into the Capitol for discussions with colleagues, Murkowski told reporters she supports the Flake agreement and indicated she spoke with Flake before his Judiciary Committee announcement.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) then issued a statement backing Flake’s move “to rise above the partisan circus on display during this entire process” and praising the Arizona Republican for having “courage to take a stand.”
“The American people have been pulled apart by this entire spectacle and we need to take time to address these claims independently, so that our country can have confidence in the outcome of this vote,” Manchin said. “It is what is right and fair for Dr. Ford, Judge Kavanaugh, and the American people.”