The Senate Judiciary Committee vote on whether to favorably recommend Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court will happen as scheduled Friday morning, though top GOP senators did not appear to know as of Thursday night whether enough key Republican votes had been convinced to confirm Kavanaugh.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley repeatedly declined to answer questions Thursday night from reporters as he repeatedly said, “we’re meeting at 9:30” — a reference to the committee meeting where the panel is scheduled to vote on whether to give Kavanaugh a favorable recommendation.
When asked by the media if the nomination comes to the full Senate floor for a vote, Grassley responded: “Depends on what happens tomorrow.”
The announcement to keep the current schedule comes fewer than two hours after the Senate Judiciary Committee wrapped its day-long, blockbuster hearing of Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
Kavanaugh’s future now appears to lie in the decisions of a handful of key Republican senators. At least one long-undecided Republican senator, Bob Corker of Tennessee, announced his support for Kavanaugh just before 9 p.m. ET on Thursday night.
“While both individuals provided compelling testimony, nothing that has been presented corroborates the allegation,” Corker said in his announcement. “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 decision by Corker, who is retiring at the end of his term in January, has occasionally fought with the President, leaves three key Republican senators to watch: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
Those three GOP members and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia were spotted going into an office on the Capitol to meet privately before their broader Republican conference meeting.
Republicans can advance Kavanaugh’s without any support from Democrats, but given their 51-49 seat majority in the chamber, Kavanaugh’s supporters can only lose one vote and still advance his nomination.
“We are still talking,” Manchin told CNN leaving the meeting. “There are no decisions on anything. There are some concerns that people have and we’re going to try to close the loop.”
Flake is a particularly unique position as he is the only member of this group who also sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is currently still scheduled to vote on whether to sign off on Kavanaugh’s nomination Friday morning. GOP leaders had pushed for a full Senate vote on Tuesday, October 2.
Sen. John Cornyn, who as majority whip is the second-ranking GOP member in the chamber, expressed optimism following a Republican meeting Thursday night that Kavanaugh’s nomination will be favorably reported out of the committee on schedule.
Asked by if he is confident that Kavanaugh can advance out of the committee, he said, “I am optimistic, yes.”
GOP senators told reporters that members meeting behind closed doors said the committee vote would happen as previously scheduled Friday morning and that the first procedural vote will take place on the Senate floor Saturday.
The meeting of four key senators occurred less than an hour after Kavanaugh finished his testimony before the Judiciary Committee, where he forcefully and passionately maintained his innocence and defiantly challenged Democratic senators who grilled him on multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior. On Thursday morning, that same committee heard from Ford who she said was “100%” certain Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers in the 1980s. In Kavanaugh’s testimony, he also said he was “100%” sure he did not sexually assault anyone.
Manchin is up for re-election this fall in a state Donald Trump won overwhelmingly and supported Trump’s last Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Manchin was among a handful of Democrats from red and purple states that Kavanaugh supporters were targeting as possible votes.
Collins and Murkowski have appeared to be the most outspoken Republican senators in seeking an additional investigation into the allegations of inappropriate behavior that have surfaced against Kavanaugh in recent days.
When asked by reporters earlier this week whether there should be a full FBI investigation into the allegations, Murkowski responded, “It would sure clear up all the questions, wouldn’t it?”
Multiple sources familiar with a private Wednesday meeting — the night before the hearing — told CNN that Collins appeared unnerved by the latest allegations, citing in particular that a sworn statement from accuser Julie Swetnick sent to the panel, which carries with it the possibility of perjury for lying to Congress. At that Wednesday meeting of Republican chairmen, GOP leaders tried to reassure Collins, keenly aware of the critical role she plays.
Kavanaugh has vehemently and repeatedly denied all the allegations against him, including those of Ford and Swetnick.
By Ted Barrett and Clare Foran, CNN