Under pressure from moderate members, Republican leaders said they would allow the new probe for up to one week, slowing their rush to confirm Brett Kavanaugh's nomination for the Supreme Court.
After a flurry of last-minute negotiations, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court after agreeing to a late call from Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona for a one week investigation into sexual assault allegations against the high court nominee.
However, it’s unclear if Republican leaders — or President Donald Trump — will support Flake’s call for the investigation or might instead press forward with a full Senate vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
The dramatic scene unfolded a day after Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified in an emotional, hours-long hearing. Kavanaugh angrily denied the allegations that he assaulted Ford while they were both in high school, while she said she was “100 percent” certain he was her attacker.
TRT World's Jon Brain reports from Washington DC.
Flake, a key moderate Republican, was at the centre of the drama and uncertainty. On Friday morning, he announced that he would support Kavanaugh’s nomination. Shortly after, he was confronted in an elevator by two women who, through tears, implored him to change his mind.
After huddling privately with his colleagues, Flake announced that he would vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate only if the FBI were to investigate the allegations against the judge.
Democrats have been calling for such an investigation, though Republicans and the White House have insisted it’s unnecessary.
Meanwhile, there were signs that Thursday’s remarkable testimony before the panel — in which Kavanaugh angrily declared his innocence and Ford calmly recounted the moment in which she says he attacked her — had registered negatively with two organisations whose support Kavanaugh had earlier received.
The American Bar Association urged the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate to delay the vote until the FBI could do a full background check on the assault claims — something President Donald Trump has refused to order.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed that Friday, telling reporters that Kavanaugh has already "been through six separate background investigations by the FBI."
Late Thursday, the magazine of the Jesuit religious order in the United States withdrew its endorsement of Kavanaugh, saying the nomination was no longer in the interests of the country and "should be withdrawn."
"If Senate Republicans proceed with his nomination, they will be prioritising policy aims over a woman's report of an assault," the America magazine editors wrote. "Were he to be confirmed without this allegation being firmly disproved, it would hang over his future decisions on the Supreme Court for decades and further divide the country."
The magazine's reversal is significant given Kavanaugh has repeatedly cited his Roman Catholic faith and his years as a student at the Jesuit-run Georgetown Prep school in Maryland.
The White House said it was engaging with wavering Republican senators, but provided few details, as Trump publicly stood by his nominee.
"His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting," he tweeted late Thursday. "The Senate must vote!"
Thursday's testimony appears to have only sharpened the partisan divide over Trump's nominee. Republicans praised Ford's bravery in coming forward, but many of them said her account won't affect their support for Kavanaugh.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, where the initial vote on Kavanaugh will be held, is narrowly split with an 11-10 Republican majority. Democrats are expected to oppose the nominee. But even if the panel deadlocks on whether to recommend the judge for confirmation, the full Senate could start taking procedural votes Saturday on Kavanaugh, setting up a final vote as soon as Tuesday.
"We're going to move forward," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as he exited a private late night strategy session with Republican senators. "The committee is going to vote."
Of the 11 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, only the vote of GOP Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona remains in doubt. The retiring senator, who has stayed quiet in recent days, told reporters late Thursday, "this isn't easy."
Flake said the marathon hearing left him "with as much doubt as certainty." He said, "We just do the best we can."
At the daylong session on Thursday, Ford and Kavanaugh both said the event and the public controversy that has erupted 36 years later had altered their lives forever and for the worse — perhaps the only thing they agreed on during a long day of testimony that was a study in contrasts of tone as well as substance.
Coming forward publicly for the first time, Ford, a California psychology professor, quietly told the nation and the Senate Judiciary Committee her long-held secret of the alleged assault in a locked room at a gathering of friends when she was just 15.
The memory — and Kavanaugh's laughter during the act — was "locked" in her brain, she said, "100 percent." Hours later, Kavanaugh angrily denied it, alternating a loud, defiant tone with being on the verge of tears as he addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"You have replaced 'advice and consent' with 'search and destroy'," he said, referring to the Constitution's charge to senators' duties in confirming high officials.
Repeatedly Democrats asked Kavanaugh to call for an FBI investigation into the claims. He did not.
"I welcome whatever the committee wants to do," he said.
Republicans are reluctant for several reasons, including the likelihood that further investigations could push a vote past the November elections that may switch Senate control back to the Democrats and make consideration of any Trump nominee more difficult.
Across more than 10 hours, the senators heard from only the two witnesses. Ford delivered her testimony with steady, deliberate certitude.
She admitted gaps in her memory as she choked back tears and said she "believed he was going to rape me." Kavanaugh entered the hearing room fuming and ready to fight, as he angrily denied the charges from Ford and other women accusing him of misconduct, barked back at senators and dismissed some questions with a flippant "whatever."
"You may defeat me in the final vote, but you'll never get me to quit, never," he said.
Trump nominated the conservative jurist in what was supposed to be an election year capstone to the GOP agenda, locking in the court's majority for years to come. Instead the nomination that Republicans were rushing for a vote now hangs precariously after one of the most emotionally charged hearings Capitol Hill has ever seen.
Coming amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct at the top of powerful institutions, it exposed continued divisions over justice, fairness and who should be believed. And coming weeks before elections, it ensured that debate would play into the fight for control of Congress.
Wearing a blue suit as Anita Hill did more two decades ago when she testified about sexual misconduct by Clarence Thomas, Ford, a psychology professor, described what she says was a harrowing assault in the summer of 1982: How an inebriated Kavanaugh and another teen, Mark Judge, locked her in a room at a house party as Kavanaugh was grinding against her and groping her. She said he put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams.
"I believed he was going to rape me," she testified, referring to Kavanaugh.
Judge has said he does not recall the incident and he reiterated that point in a letter to the committee released late on Thursday.
When the committee's top Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, asked how she could be sure that Kavanaugh was the attacker, Ford said, "The same way I'm sure I'm talking to you right now." Later, she told Senator Dick Durbin that her certainty was "100 percent."
Asked by Senator Patrick Leahy for her strongest memory of the alleged incident, Ford, said it was the two boys' laughter.
"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter," said Ford, who is a research psychologist, "the uproarious laughter between the two."
An angry Kavanaugh, who testified after Ford, declared, "My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed."
He lashed out over the time it took the committee to convene the hearing after Ford's allegations emerged, singling out the Democrats for "unleashing" forces against him.
"This confirmation process has become a national disgrace," he said. He mocked Ford's allegations — and several others since — that have accused him of sexual impropriety. He scolded the senators saying their advice-and-consent role had become "search and destroy."
Even if senators turn vote down his confirmation, he said, "you'll never get me to quit."
Kavanaugh, who has two daughters, said one of his girls said they should "pray for the woman" making the allegations against him, referring to Ford. "That's a lot of wisdom from a 10-year-old," he said chocking up. "We mean no ill will."
The judge repeatedly refused to answer senators' questions about the hard-party atmosphere that has been described from his peer group at Georgetown Prep and Yale, treating them dismissively.
"Sometimes I had too many beers," he acknowledged. "I liked beer. I still like beer. But I never drank beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone. "