Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake sent Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination into brief turmoil on Friday, hogging the Senate limelight with a last-minute request that the Senate Judiciary Committee allow the FBI to re-open Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s background check. He then voted to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate with absolutely no guarantee that his request would be honored. In other words: a classic Jeff Flake move to cover his ass.
Flake’s surprise maneuver came just hours after he said he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh. He was then angrily confronted by two women who tearfully shared their own experience with sexual assault. The image of Flake, standing silently in an elevator while the women virtually shamed him, was a searing one. Whether it spooked Flake enough that he felt the need to make some grand gesture is open to interpretation. Whatever the case, he clearly decided he needed a way to give himself an out. He also caught the committee entirely by surprise, delaying what had been scheduled as a 1:30 p.m. vote by more than 20 minutes.
Citing the need for “all due diligence,” Flake explained that he thought “it would be proper to delay the [full Senate] floor vote by up to, but no more than one week” while the FBI re-opened its investigation.
Noting that he couldn’t control whether the larger Senate would or would not push through with a full vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Flake said that he would “only be comfortable moving on the floor” following an FBI investigation.
Here’s the catch, though: he has no way of ensuring anyone holds up their end of the deal—especially because he didn’t even try to seek a deal. After a brief, convoluted back and forth between members of the committee, Chairman Chuck Grassley gaveled the committee closed, saying there had been no official amendment offered, and that Flake’s request was simple “a gentleman and women’s agreement.” Now, all that needs to happen is for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or President Donald Trump—noted keepers of promises—to follow Flake’s lead, and for Flake—who has a lengthy history of caving after stances like this—to follow through on his promise. If it does, that could give other wavering Republicans all the cover they need to back Kavanaugh in the end. We’ll see.
Update, 3:45 p.m.: Following a meeting of Senate Republicans, Texas Senator John Cornyn confirmed to reporters that Republicans had agreed to Flake’s proposal, and would back a one-week long FBI investigation.
This is a developing story and will be updated as new information is made available.