McConnell late Wednesday set up a key procedural vote that could pave the way for the Supreme Court nominee’s confirmation by this weekend.
The FBI’s time-limited inquiry into sexual misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh arrived on Capitol Hill early Thursday, launching a day of viewing by senators that promises to make or break his Supreme Court confirmation prospects.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has set up a critical procedural vote Friday on Kavanaugh’s nomination, with a final vote coming as early as Saturday provided that the 53-year-old appeals court judge hits no further hurdles in the chamber. Three Republicans remain publicly undecided on the nomination, pending viewing of the FBI report: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
GOP staffers are preparing a briefing for Republican senators on the FBI report on Thursday morning, a Republican senator said. They began filing into a secure area in the Capitol complex around 10 a.m., following Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who entered an hour earlier.
After receiving a staff briefing on the new FBI report, Senate Judiciary Chairman Grassley (R-Iowa) summed it up succinctly: “There’s nothing in it that we didn’t already know.” He reiterated he will vote for Kavanqaugh.
“This investigation found no hint of misconduct and the same is true of the six prior FBI background investigations conducted during Judge Kavanaugh’s 25 years of public service,” Grassley said. “I trust that the career agents of the FBI have done their work independent of political or partisan considerations. That’s exactly what senators from both sides asked for.”
Democrats are already decrying the curtailed scope of the FBI’s investigation, which has omitted interviews with friends and acquaintances of Kavanaugh who have offered to share stories about his drinking habits that might buttress allegations by his critics that he misled the Senate.
But senior GOP senators and the White House have maintained that the limited scope of the FBI probe is standard — and it’s unclear whether Collins, Flake, or Murkowski have any concerns on that front.
“With this additional information, the White House is fully confident the Senate will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court,” spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement at 2:30 a.m. Thursday, when the FBI’s materials were formally transmitted to the Hill.
Shah told CNN on Thursday morning that the FBI contacted 10 people for its Kavanaugh inquiry, six more than Senate Republicans initially identified in a list of individuals to contact.
The FBI’s background inquiry is not designed as “an investigation — or criminal probe, for example. It doesn’t seek to find a specific outcome,” Shah added. “It seeks to find information for decision makers. The Senate has set a scope on what they are interested in.”
In addition to Collins, Flake, and Murkowski, Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — two of their party’s most politically vulnerable incumbents ahead of November’s midterms — are also uncommitted on Kavanaugh. Any one of those five senators could announce their stances on Kavanaugh on Thursday, after viewing the report, or wait to do so until Friday.
Collins, Murkowski, and Flake also may vote “yes” on Friday, which would allow the nomination to move forward procedurally, as an institutional matter that’s unrelated to how they will ultimately vote on Kavanaugh. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a mentor of Flake’s, famously voted to move ahead with last year’s GOP Obamacare repeal bill before voting against it in the end.
Kavanaugh is accused by Christine Blasey Ford, a California-based professor, of a sexual assault when both were in high school and by Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate, of exposing himself to her during a drunken dormitory party. Ramirez was interviewed by the FBI for its report but Ford was not, a decision that her lawyers said left them “profoundly disappointed.”
A third Kavanaugh accuser, Julie Swetnick, has faced harsh personal attacks on her credibility from Republicans, as has her Democratic-linked lawyer, Michael Avenatti. Swetnick’s allegations of Kavanaugh involvement in 1980s-era sexual misconduct appear to have been omitted from the FBI’s latest inquiry.
Senators will be permitted to view one copy of the FBI’s Kavanaugh report on Thursday, accessing it in a secure facility consistent with a 2009 memorandum that governs the handling of such materials. A handful of top aides will also be cleared to access the report, which is being made available to the parties in alternating one-hour shifts throughout the day Thursday.