Republican Senator Jeff Flake
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

There was a lot of drama in the Senate Judiciary Committee today, but ultimately they moved on a straight 11-10 party-line vote to approve Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court and send it to the full Senate floor. The vote was scheduled for 1:30pm but was delayed while Sen. Jeff Flake, a retiring Republican from Arizona, negotiated with other senators in the hallway outside the committee room.

In the end, he cast his deciding vote with the Republicans, but he strongly suggested that he would not approve a motion to take up the vote on the Senate floor unless the FBI is given “no more than” a week to look into the allegations of sexual assault made on Thursday before the Judiciary Committee by Dr. Ford. For those unfamiliar with Senate procedure, this is causing a lot of confusion, and it’s not entirely clear what will happen even to many of the senators and their staffs.

The main thing you need to know is that the Republicans will need to pass a motion to begin debate on the nomination, then another to end debate and have a vote. They cannot do any of those things without at least fifty votes, and Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has stated that she supports Sen. Flake’s proposal for a week-long FBI investigation. The two of them can stop any further action on the nomination unless their demands are met, so the Republican leadership and White House have no real choice but to do something that will satisfy them.

The next steps could be tricky, however, because it’s not clear what will satisfy them or what is really realistic to expect on such a short timeline. The FBI has many field offices and can conduct interviews fairly quickly if people can be located and are available, but this is a real time crunch.

While the FBI investigation gets up and rolling, obviously the news media will be reporting and interviewing and investigating themselves, so there’s no telling what set of facts and allegations will be dominating in a week’s time, or even when the clock officially starts on that deadline.

In any case, Sen. Flake seems to have put the brakes on what was a runaway train, and I guess we should thank him for that. Democratic Senator Chris Coons seems to have had a major leadership role in making this delay happen, and he deserves praise for his hard work and effectiveness.

I imagine Brett Kavanaugh is heliotrope with rage, and we now know what that looks like.  I doubt the shock of his testimony will age well, but it’s not clear that we’ll have more clarity in a week than we do now.

In any case, there is still hope that Kavanaugh will not be confirmed and serve for decades on the nation’s highest court. And it looked for a long time on Friday like all hope was lost.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at