Published 11:59 AM EDT Oct 5, 2018
Sen. Jeff Flake voted Friday to advance Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court to a final Senate vote this weekend, but still didn’t make clear whether he will ultimately confirm the embattled judge.
Flake’s support in a preliminary, procedural vote keeps Kavanaugh on track for his nomination. The Senate decided to move to a final vote by a 51-49 tally Friday that included support from only one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Flake, R-Arizona, is one of the last hurdles in Kavanaugh’s path to the high court after allegations of sexual assault decades ago created sudden drama over a confirmation that once seemed inevitable.
Flake has not indicated how he plans to vote on Kavanaugh. Another key holdout, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would spell out how she plans to vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation later Friday.
Flake's friend, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, said Flake discussed the matter with him Friday morning and at least heard Coons' main points.
Coons told reporters that Flake had not indicated how he will vote on the nomination.
“I did not press. He did not say. I don’t think that’s appropriate. We’re senators. We each reach our own decisions. We had a positive and I think constructive conversation. He gave me an opportunity to make a few points I was eager to make.”
“It was important to me all along that regardless of how this week ended that we stay in regular communication and that we respect each other and respect the differences in our views,” he said. “Look, Senator Flake is a conservative. He wants a conservative for the Supreme Court. He would support a conservative nominee. I’m not, and typically do not. It’s important to remember we came into this with different views.”
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Republicans can afford only one defection before needing help from Democrats to approve the nomination.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, has long maintained his support for Kavanaugh.
A week ago, Flake said he planned to confirm Kavanaugh, but that was before he helped force a quick FBI investigation of the allegations against the judge.
Flake has frequently found himself at the center of Kavanaugh’s bitterly contested nomination, which will long be remembered for allegations of a decades-old sexual assault and Kavanaugh’s raw, angry denials.
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Kavanaugh, currently a federal appeals court judge, could cement the high court’s conservative outlook, perhaps for decades to come.
His July nomination initially appeared to be a little more than an unpleasant formality for Democrats.
That changed when California college professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward with allegations that Kavanaugh groped her and tried to remove her clothes in the summer of 1982, when she was 15 and he was 17.
Flake helped slow the nomination when he said he wasn’t comfortable proceeding without hearing from Blasey Ford.
By the time the Senate Judiciary Committee held that hearing last week, Flake said in nationally televised remarks in the Senate that he and both people in the matter had received death threats.
Flake didn’t ask Blasey Ford or Kavanaugh any questions at the hearing and ended the spectacle with the prediction that no one would draw much comfort from what had unfolded in front of a spellbound nation.
The next morning Flake announced his support for Kavanaugh. On his way to a hearing to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate, two women confronted him in an elevator in another nationally watched moment.
One of them said she was a victim of sexual assault and demanded Flake explain what his support for Kavanaugh meant for women like her.
Flake again commanded national attention at the hearing passing Kavanaugh to the full Senate.
He left the hearing for extended talks with Senate Democrats, in particular with Coons. When Flake returned, he announced he would send Kavanaugh’s to the Senate, but wanted a short FBI investigation into the allegations.
He got one, though partisan bickering over the probe's scope and duration quickly overshadowed it.
On Thursday, Flake hinted his support to come, telling reporters the investigation had not produced any additional corroboration of Blasey Ford's allegations.
Eliza Collins of USA TODAY contributed to this article.