WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans are pushing ahead with a key committee vote Friday on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after nearly nine hours of testimony on Thursday regarding a sexual misconduct allegation against him.
GOP senators met Thursday night behind closed doors to plot their course, and McConnell said afterwards that a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee will proceed as scheduled.
"The committee is going to vote in the morning [Friday], and we’ll go forward," the Kentucky Republican said. It is possible a full Senate confirmation vote could take place early next week.
Late Thursday, the American Bar Association urged the committee to postpone the vote until the FBI could conduct an investigation.
"Deciding to proceed without conducting additional investigation would not only have a lasting impact on the Senate’s reputation, but it will also negatively affect the great trust necessary for the American people to have in the Supreme Court," ABA President Robert M. Carlson wrote in a letter to the committee.
After an "exhaustive evaluation process," the ABA last month said its standing committee had unanimously voted that Kavanaugh was “well qualified” to be a justice. Kavanaugh cited the ABA's standpoint during his testimony.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also said that the ABA had recognized that Kavanaugh had "lived a good life."
Moderates like Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are among those who could still tank the nomination and have kept their intentions quiet even as Kavanaugh's indignant rejection of the sexual assault claims looks to have won over the majority of their male colleagues.
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With Republicans' narrow 51-49 majority, two defections could imperil President Donald Trump's nominee, since nearly every Democrat is expected to vote no.
Trump reiterated his full support for Kavanaugh after back-to-back testimony in the Judiciary committee from the first woman to accuse Kavanaugh of misconduct and the nominee himself.
There were no immediate GOP defections, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a Trump critic who is not running for reelection, came out in support of the nominee.
"There is no question that Judge Kavanaugh is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, and in a different political environment, he would be confirmed overwhelmingly," the senator said in a statement from his office.
Earlier, Christine Blasey Ford testified under oath that she is "100 percent" certain it was Kavanaugh who sexually assaulted her at party more than 30 years ago when they were both in high school.
In addition to Murkowski and Collins, attention will now also turn Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is one of a handful of Democrats up for reelection in states Trump won by wide margins.
Flake sits on the Judiciary Committee, and offered no hint of opposition to Kavanaugh while questioning him or during Ford's testimony before that. Neither did fellow committee Republican Ben Sasse of Nebraska, an occasional Trump-critic who recently published a book about the decline of morality and civility in American society.
Flake told reporters that Ford was a "compelling person" and said she offered "a good testimony." But he went on to say he liked Kavanaugh's forceful tone. He would not say how he will vote.
The Judiciary Committee is split 11 Republicans to 10 Democrats, with Flake seen as the swing vote. The full Senate can take up the nomination regardless of the outcome in the committee.
Manchin, Flake, Collins and Murkowski were spotted meeting after the hearing, but significance of the gathering was unclear and all declined to say how they planned to vote.
Earlier Thursday, a number of Republicans initially said they found Ford's testimony persuasive, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who attended the same Washington-area private school Ford did at the time of the alleged assault.
"It was extremely compelling and emotional," Capito said. "Anyone who is watching has to feel the same way."
Even Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who has been one of Kavanaugh's most outspoken defenders — the background photo on his official Twitter account shows him and Kavanaugh posing with the girls basketball team that Kavanagh coaches — said he found Ford to be a "good witness." "She's articulate. She's an attractive person," he told reporters, but stopped short of calling her credible.
GOP senators sat stone faced during Ford's testimony, as conservative commentators online and on TV said they thought they were witnessing "a disaster for the Republicans," as Fox News host Chris Wallace put it.
But the mood among Republicans swung dramatically after Kavanaugh took the witness seat and uncorked a fierce 45-minute opening statement filled with anger, partisan attacks and emotion.
"If Republicans were gloomy two hours ago, I don't think they are now," conservative legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, who had just hours earlier warned that Kavanaugh was on the verge of collapse, said on Fox News.
Some GOP Senators on the Judiciary Committee adopted Kavanaugh's defiant tone, culminating in Graham shouting at his Democratic colleagues.
Most of the the other Republicans on committee took the same tack, alternatively apologized to Kavanaugh for the difficulty he's faced and decrying the hearing as "one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the United States Senate," as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, put it.