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How a Kavanaugh Senate vote could play out this week

For the Senate to hold a final vote on Kavanaugh's nomination by the end of this week, the GOP leader would need to start a procedural process on the Senate floor within the next day or two.
Image: Brett Kavanaugh
Here's how Kavanaugh's nomination could still get a final vote this week.Erin Schaff / Pool via Reuters

WASHINGTON — If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wants the Senate to wrap up its consideration of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh this week, he probably won't be able to wait for the FBI to do the same.

“The Senate will vote on Judge Kavanaugh here on this floor this week,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. “After the FBI shares what they found, senators will have the opportunity to vote.”

Asked later in the day how long he would give senators to read and digest the FBI's report on Kavanaugh before moving to a full Senate floor vote, McConnell downplayed the time lawmakers would need. "It shouldn't take long," he said.

But for the Senate to hold a final vote on Kavanaugh's nomination by the end of this week, the GOP leader would need to start a procedural process on the Senate floor within the next day or two — well before the FBI is expected to hand over the results of its supplemental background investigation.

Senate Republicans have given the FBI until this Friday to complete the new investigation launched after Sen Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said last Friday that his support for holding a final vote would be conditional on the completion of a new probe.

Flake told reporters on Friday that the agreement was that the Senate would not move forward on the nomination until the investigation was completed. Some of his Republican colleagues vocally disagreed, arguing that the FBI investigation was just a delay tactic: The Senate, they said, should vote as soon as possible.

“If you think this is about a search for the truth, you need to put down the bong,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., a member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters Tuesday. “This is about winning. This is about power. This is just, win, baby, win. It doesn’t matter what the cost. That’s all this has turned into, and it’s time to vote.”

Whenever McConnell officially starts the process, it would take around five days for it to culminate in a final vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

First, the majority leader would need to file a motion to end debate on the nomination. Technically, he can do this whenever he wants.

The following calendar day would be a waiting period, when there could be no votes related to the nomination.

The next day — one hour after the Senate convenes — the chamber could vote on the cloture motion to end debate. That motion used to require 60 votes. Not anymore: The number changed to a simple majority when the GOP used the nuclear option to confirm Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

That vote would signal the start of up to 30 hours of debate, equally divided between Republicans and Democrats — though there’s a possibility that Republicans could yield back some of that time, which would shorten that time period.

Then the full Senate would vote, with just a simple majority needed to confirm Kavanaugh.

For McConnell to stick to his end-of-the-week timeline, he would have to start the process on the Senate floor by Wednesday — a risky move, since it could irk Flake, along with fellow potential Kavanaugh swing voters Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

If both Collins and Murkowski — the only two Republicans who remain formally undecided on Kavanaugh — were to vote against the nomination, and no Democrats supported it, it would fail.

In other words: As of Tuesday, it was clear that McConnell could still technically stick to his ideal Kavanaugh vote schedule. Less clear was whether — with an eye on the outcome — he should.