Senate Judiciary advances Brett Kavanaugh nomination; Flake calls for FBI probe
The Senate Judiciary Committee took a surprise turn Friday and asked for the FBI to reopen its investigation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The committee had been expected to vote to send the nomination to the full Senate for a final vote.
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, negotiated with Democrats about the delaying the vote by a week for further investigation "limited in time and scope." Flake's motion still sent the nomination to the Senate floor. Flake said he would ask the White House for the FBI probe.
However Sen. Lindsay Graham said the majority leader -- not the committee -- had the power to call up the nomination and the majority would not bound by the action. However Graham said that fifty votes were still needed to confirm Kavanaugh so a delay might be practical. "Somebody's got to explain this to Trump," Graham said. "I suppose that's my job."
However Flake said he would not be comfortable voting "yes" on the nomination without such action. Working with other undecided senators, that would be enough votes to stop the nomination. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was quoted on MSBNC saying that she supports Flake's call for a new investigation. That means Republicans do not have the votes to jam the nomination through.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said this was one senator standing up, and it represented an "important moment."
In the middle of the discussion about Flake's move, Judiciary Commitee Chairman Chuck Grassley suddenly adjourned the committee.
The Judiciary Committee vote took place along party lines, Republicans for Kavanaugh, and Democrats voting against. There will be a procedural vote in the Senate on Saturday and a final vote by Tuesday.
There are only a few members who have not said how they will vote, including Murkowski. The other members are Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, and Democrats Joe Manchin, from West Virginia, and Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota. All four of these members would have to vote in order to block the Kavanaugh nomination. (Vice President Mike Pence can break a 50-50 tie.)
Alaska Native groups have asked Murkowski to vote no because of Kavanaugh’s previous positions on Native Hawaiians and other federal Indian case law. Elizabeth Medicine Crow, president of First Alaskans Institute, posted on Facebook: “I love all of you standing up, loudly through your posts, or quietly making a vow to vote your values. Lisa Murkowski will listen. Alaskans and Alaska Natives say no to Brett Kavanaugh.”
On Thursday the Brookings Institute also raised the connection between Murkowski, Heitkamp, and sexual violence. “The Kavanaugh nomination has brought to the fore another issue, one that might not ordinarily motivate elected officials but disproportionately impacts Alaska Natives and Native Americans: the prevalence of sexual violence against women,” wrote Christine Stenglein and John Hudak for Brookings. “Native communities, hit hard by an epidemic of sexual violence, will watch their senators’ votes on the Kavanaugh nomination carefully.”
Brookings pointed out that Flake, now Arizona’s senior senator, represents a significant Native population.
“Another key swing vote is from across the aisle, Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic senator from North Dakota. North Dakota has the nation’s 6th highest percentage of Native Americans (5.5 percent),” the Brookings authors said. “Sen. Heitkamp has teamed up with Sen. Murkowski to sponsor legislation dealing with sexual assault and issues relevant to Native communities. In addition, Heitkamp faces voters this fall and her political calculus around the Kavanaugh nomination will likely consider both the allegations against the judge and the epidemic of sexual violence in Native communities.
Murkowski has a practice of remaining silent on controversial votes until shortly before a vote is taken.