When we last left off on the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination saga of last week, both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, had their time in the witness chair on Thursday answering questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee. This set up a vote on Friday which ultimately ended with Kavanaugh being approved by the Committee on a party-line vote of 11 to 10. The only condition, however, was for a one-week delay before the full Senate votes so that a supplemental FBI investigation could take place. This condition came at the insistence of Republican Senator Jeff Flake, of Arizona.
Now we’re into a new week and the month of October and the fireworks won’t end anytime soon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has set a tentative vote for Kavanaugh this Friday assuming the FBI investigation comes up empty. If that ends up being the case, it’ll allow on-the-fence Republicans like Flake, Collins, and Murkowski to vote for Kavanaugh with the understanding that all claims have been thoroughly investigated and dismissed as not credible by law enforcement.
As you can see, the GOP is in a precarious position on this one. Anything can pop up between now and the vote on Friday which could completely derail the nomination.
Aside from Republican Senators, who are all feeling the heat from party leadership and their voters to support Kavanaugh, there are a number of Democratic Senators hailing from red states that were carried by Donald Trump in 2016 that are now under the gun from constituents. Senators like Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, for example, are feeling the pressure to vote for Kavanaugh lest it creates an opportunity for their Republican opponents to drive a campaign issue with voters in their state, as Vox explains:
There are also some big questions around how Democrats will vote. There are currently 10 Democrats running for reelection in red states, three of whom voted in favor of the last Trump-appointed Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch: Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), and Joe Manchin (WV). Already Donnelly has said he would vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, saying he was unable to get enough information on the nominee. Manchin told reporters Thursday night that he was still undecided after the hearings.
Whether the allegations of sexual misconduct give those Democrats enough cover with voters in November to stand in lockstep with the Democratic Party remains to be seen. Kavanaugh is historically unpopular, but has left Americans divided along party lines.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (ND): The North Dakota senator is one of three who voted for Gorsuch last spring. While her office told Vox’s Dylan Scott early this week that she remains undecided, Heitkamp has also been vocal about the importance of Ford’s testimony and of listening to women who have made allegations about sexual misconduct.
Sen. Joe Manchin (WV): Manchin is another Democrat who crossed party lines in the Gorsuch vote. He’s known for his independent streak and previously quipped that he is not susceptible to being whipped by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in order to vote a certain way. “I’ll be 71 years old in August, you’re going to whip me? Kiss my you know what,” Manchin said earlier this summer.
Manchin and Heitkamp are probably in the toughest spots politically speaking since West Virginia and North Dakota went heavily for Trump and both races are areas where Republicans conceivably have a chance to gain seats.
We’ll know by Friday, maybe even before then, if the FBI has produced any new and/or alarming information on Kavanaugh that will cause further issues with the vote.
As for the investigation itself, according to reports, the FBI is starting with four witenesses:
The FBI has been given a list of four witnesses to interview as part of a background check into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, The New York Times reported.
Those witnesses are Mark Judge, Leland Keyser, PJ Smyth, and Deborah Ramirez.
The investigation comes after Christine Blasey Ford, a northern California professor, alleged that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a high school gathering in the 1980s. Ford claims that Keyser and Smyth were present at the gathering when the alleged assault happened, and that Judge was eyewitness to it.
Ramirez, meanwhile, came forward with her own claim against Kavanaugh after Ford’s story was published, accusing the Supreme Court nominee of exposing himself to her at a dorm-room party at Yale during the 1983-1984 school year.
Since the investigation is being limited in scope, that alone creates opportunities for Democrats to continue opposing the nomination since they’ll claim the White House is not allowing an unfettered investigation to take place. However, it isn’t Democrats that need to be satisfied for Kavanaugh to be confirmed, its GOP Senators like Flake who requested a little more time for FBI involvement to check the veracity of the claims and gather more information.
Republicans need to get to 51 votes, and they could lose a Senator and still have Vice President Mike Pence break the tie, but they would probably prefer not to go that route.
Get ready, folks, it’s going to be another busy week and with the start of October the 2018 midterm races will go into overdrive right alongside this Supreme Court fight.