It’s almost like Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake didn’t enjoy getting screamed at by sexual assault survivors.
That’s what happened as he was cornered in a Senate office building elevator shortly after announcing that he would support Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, citing a lack of corroborating evidence for Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations. Over the course of the next couple of hours in the committee hearing room, Flake sat glumly as one Democrat after another delegitimized Kavanaugh’s pending advancement: Not all stones had been unturned in trying to get to the bottom of what happened in 1982. Very few of them, really. If Kavanaugh made it to the Supreme Court before whatever other evidence that could be collected was collected, there would always be a shroud of illegitimacy hanging over him, and the country further ripped apart.
So Flake huddled with Judiciary Committee Democrats in the committee antechamber to cut a deal, emerging to say that he would not feel “comfortable” voting to confirm Kavanaugh on the Senate floor without an FBI investigation of Ford’s allegations, lasting no longer than one week. He did, however, agree to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination out of committee.
Flake spoke like someone who had the numbers to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and sure enough, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said shortly after the hearing that she supported Flake’s position. Mitch McConnell can count, and that left him with, at best, 49 votes. McConnell must not have seen it as a bluff, because a couple of hours after the hearing disbanded, an “accord” was struck.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee will request that the administration instruct the FBI to conduct a supplemental FBI background investigation with respect to the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court,” a statement from Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley read. “The supplemental FBI background investigation would be limited to current credible allegations against the nominee and must be completed no later than one week from today.” The Senate opened debate on the nomination on Friday, but McConnell, according to Flake, won’t set up a vote to end debate while the week-long investigation is pending.
Most Republicans are surely furious at the additional delay, but they should direct that ire towards their leaders’ impulse to rush in the first place. If Grassley had just requested an FBI investigation early last week when Democrats requested it, it would have been completed by now and the nominee’s fate not conditional on a retiring Arizonan’s crisis of conscience.
It would be nice to believe that the FBI will either find corroborating evidence or won’t, and that the Senate will coolly look at it, arrive at a reasonable consensus conclusion, vote 100-0 in whichever direction the evidence points them, and disband until after the midterms (or, preferably, forever).
Now let’s chart a realistic course. The FBI updates the background file. Democrats claim either that the investigation was prematurely cut off by an artificial deadline or that the file contains explosive new evidence that calls for further investigation and hearings. Republican leaders say that there’s still no corroboration and Judge Kavanaugh is a good church man, so eat it, and set up the vote. Democrats lose their minds and once again beg Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski not to support Kavanaugh and this outrageous process. After another week that feels like 100 years, we’re likely to end up right where we started.
This post has been updated.