WASHINGTON — It was a seesaw day of directly conflicting testimony and partisan sniping, but by the evening, the fate of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court lay — as it has all along — with three Republican senators.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, will determine whether Kavanaugh’s nomination moves forward toward confirmation this weekend, is delayed or goes down altogether.
Initially, after the compelling and credible testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee of Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday morning, influential conservatives said in text messages that Kavanaugh’s nomination was in trouble and fail, even as others close to the White House insisted the GOP should still press forward with the nomination.
“This is a disaster for Republicans,” Chris Wallace said on Fox News.
Two Republican governors in states dominated by Democratic voters — Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland — called early Thursday for the nomination to be suspended pending further investigation. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, a state with a more mixed electorate, on Wednesday called on Republicans to slow down the process to gather more information.
But the fiery denial of Ford’s accusation by Kavanaugh in the afternoon rallied the right, and seemed to stop the bleeding. It reduced the chances that the White House would feel the need to withdraw his nomination, a point President Trump made sure to impress upon members of the Judiciary Committee.
“Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him,” Trump said in a tweet posted at the conclusion of the judge’s interrogation. “His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”
The focus Thursday night turned back to the three Republican senators whose support for Kavanaugh has been in question: Flake, Murkowski and Collins. Republicans have a 51-seat majority, and, with the potential vote of Vice President Mike Pence in the event of a 50-50 tie, can only afford to lose the support of one of their ranks.
Only Flake sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he did not tip his hand when he spoke at the end of the day-long hearing to briefly praise both Ford and Kavanaugh for their testimony. The senator, who is not seeking reelection and has long been an antagonist of President Trump, also said expressed regret that Kavanaugh and Ford and their families had had to endure the acrimony of the process.
“This is not a good process, but it’s all we’ve got,” Flake said before making an appeal to his fellow senators to moderate their partisanship and anger by keeping in mind the lack of certainty about what really happened 35 years ago, when Ford alleges that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her.
“There is doubt. We’ll never move beyond that, and just have a little humility on that front,” Flake said. He did not ask Kavanaugh any questions during Thursday’s remarkable session.
The Senate Republicans were scheduled to hold a meeting Thursday evening to discuss next steps. Before that meeting, Flake, Collins and Murkowski were reported to be meeting with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a conservative Democrat who sometimes votes with Republicans.
Spokespersons for Flake, Collins and Murkowski did not respond to questions about how they intended to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the high court.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination Friday morning. If the committee, which has an 11-10 Republican majority, approves his nomination, it would go to the full Senate, where a final vote could happen on Saturday.
If, on the other hand, any of the three Republican senators in question asked that Ford’s allegations be investigated further, that could present another obstacle to the nomination.
But a statement at the end of the day by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, demonstrated the degree to which Kavanaugh’s afternoon testimony had shifted the momentum. Considered one of the more independent Republicans in the Senate, Portman gave his full-throated support for Kavanaugh at the conclusion of Thursday’s hearings.
“I believe allegations of sexual assault should be taken very seriously, and Dr. Ford deserved the opportunity to tell her story and be heard. I believe my job is to assess the facts that we have before us, and that’s very difficult when no corroboration exists regarding this allegation. Judge Kavanaugh has adamantly denied the allegation,” Portman said in his statement. “I have known Judge Kavanaugh for more than 15 years, I know his wife, Ashley, and I know his family. The Brett Kavanaugh I know is a man of integrity and humility. He also has the right qualifications and experience to serve on the Supreme Court. In fact, the American Bar Association has given him their highest rating, unanimously. I support his confirmation.”
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