Jeff Flake got the attention for being the driving force behind delaying a Senate vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. But it was backroom talks with Democrats that gave the idea the political fuel it needed.
Flake worked with Democrats Friday to craft the latest twist, a deal prompting the FBI to launch an investigation over Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh.
The Judiciary Committee had gathered Friday morning to consider whether to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor. The panel has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.
Flake had decided at the last minute he would only agree to move the nomination if there would be a week-long FBI investigation into standing, credible sexual assault allegations against the nominee.
The Senate timetable is now pushed back, as other key Republicans such as Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, aligned with Flake in calling for the investigation before they would vote to approve Kavanaugh.
The sudden deal was all due to some quiet, secretive backroom talks with Democrats, including top committee Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California..
“In an anteroom, back hall conversation, first with Sen. Flake, then with Sen. Feinstein and then with many other senators of both parties, there was a broad agreement that this committee has been too divided and too partisan in this process,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, told reporters.
Flake, whose conflicted emotions were on display throughout the hearing, had spurred a meeting between himself and Democrats on the committee in the back room around noon Friday, an hour and a half before the committee was to vote.
At one point he stood up, tapping Coons on the shoulder as he made his way to a closed off back room. Coons followed.
Some time later, Coons came back into the hearing room and began speaking with Feinstein and her staff. They eventually got up and also moved to the back room.
Flake said Feinstein and other Democrats gave him the assurances he needed to move forward with the request for the FBI investigation.
“I wanted to hear that at least there would be — if we took this action, which is a tough thing, obviously to get people to change the schedule that’s there — at least there would be some Democrats saying, ‘Hey, this is a better process,’” Flake told McClatchy. “To bring some of the country along, that they’d feel better about this.”
They emerged after a few hours of back room talks and Flake made a statement calling for the FBI investigation. The committee took its 11 to 10 vote to send the Kavanaugh nomination to the full Senate, as Democrats called for clarification on what the vote meant for the FBI investigation. Grassley abruptly adjourned the session, citing a rule limiting how long the committee could meet.
“What??” a confused Feinstein asked.
“Is it done? Is Flake’s — is it going to happen, or did you cut off a vote?” Feinstein asked Grassley into a live microphone immediately after the hearing concluded.
“No, there’s no motion in front of us. This is a gentlemen’s and women’s agreement,” Grassley responded.
Feinstein then asked what he’s committed to, but the microphone cut off without capturing Grassley’s response.
Hours later, at the conclusion of a Republican meeting in the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the answer was clear. The Senate would ask for an FBI investigation, taking no longer than a week, and would vote to limit debate on Kavanaugh’s confirmation 24 hours after receiving the full report.
If the limit was agreed to, no more than 30 hours would have to pass before the final vote on Kavanaugh.
“We can’t politicize the Supreme Court. It’s the last institution in this country that’s respected above all others, and we can’t lose that,” Flake said at the conclusion of the meeting. “I felt that if we could get both parties to work together, then it would be better.”