After a stunning two days of testimony, judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court has been advanced to a full senate vote.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday voted along party lines, 11-10, with Democrats unanimously opposed to Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation after he was accused of sexual assaulting a former high school classmate in the 1980s.
But the vote to confirm Mr Kavanaugh could be delayed by another week after a stunning last-minute about-face as the hearing came to a close.
In an unexpected series of events, Jeff Flake, a Republican senator from Arizona and a crucial swing vote, sided with Democrats and said he would not support final confirmation until there was an FBI investigation into the alleged incident between Mr Kavanaugh and Dr Christine Blasey Ford.
The Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee is comprised of 21 senators whose role is to consider executive nominations and review pending legislation.
Dr Blasey Ford demanded an FBI investigation into the allegations before testifying but she still agreed to appear after this request was denied, calling it her “civic duty”.
Mr Flake said he feared the country was “being ripped apart” by the proceedings which echo the near-identical 1991 sexual harassment case between law professor Anita Hill and then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
“This country is being ripped apart here and we’ve got to make sure that we do due diligence,” Mr Flake said.
“I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to but not more than one week in order to let the FBI to do an investigation limited in time and scope to the current allegations that are there,” he said.
Earlier on Friday, Mr Flake said he would support Mr Kavanaugh going to a full senate floor vote. With 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats on the committee, Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation seemed all but confirmed.
But Democrats struck a deal with Mr Flake to delay the floor vote by a week and the White House will now be asked to request an FBI investigation.
Mr Kavanaugh, Mr Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee during his two-year presidency, will now face a full senate which is equally divided in light of the sexual assault allegations.
According to the Washington Post, 49 senators support Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation, 47 senators are opposed and four – two Democrats and two Republicans – are undecided.
The committee, with tempers flaring on both sides, met the morning after a jarring and emotional hearing into sexual misconduct allegations against Mr Kavanaugh that gripped the country.
Mr Kavanaugh has denied the accusations and called them an orchestrated campaign to smear his name.
Senator John Kennedy called the confirmation process “an intergalactic freak show” as Democrats left the room in protest.
It remains unclear if Republicans have the votes to confirm Mr Kavanaugh on the senate floor. Republicans hold a slim Senate 51-49 majority, making the votes of two other so-far undecided Republican moderates crucial.
Republican committee chair Chuck Grassley said he found Thursday’s testimony from both Ms Blasey Ford and Mr Kavanaugh “credible”, but added there was no reason to deny Mr Kavanaugh a seat on the Supreme Court on the basis of the evidence presented.
Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2018
The timing of the panel’s session gave committee members little time to review Thursday’s extraordinary testimony from Mr Kavanaugh and Ms Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were high school students in 1982.
Kavanaugh forcefully denied the accusations and accused Democrats of a “calculated and orchestrated political hit”.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s senior Democrat, called Mr Kavanaugh’s remarks unseemly for a judicial nominee.
“This was someone who was aggressive and belligerent,” Ms Feinstein said.
“I have never seen someone who wants to be elevated to the highest court in the country behave in that manner.”
If confirmed, Kavanaugh would consolidate conservative control of the nation’s highest court and advance Trump’s broad effort to shift the American judiciary to the right.
Mr Trump on Friday called on senators to “do what they think is right”, but the president was increasingly vocal in his support of Mr Kavanaugh during the testimony.
“Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting,” he tweeted.
Ebony Bowden contributed reporting from New York City.
– with AAP