WASHINGTON — Republican leaders moved toward a final vote on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Wednesday evening and invited senators to review on Thursday the new FBI investigation into sexual misconduct claims against him.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed a motion for a crucial procedural vote to be conducted Friday morning, which could set up an up or down confirmation vote this weekend.
“There will be plenty of time for Members to review and be briefed on the supplemental material before a Friday cloture vote. So I am filing cloture on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination this evening so the process can move forward, as I indicated earlier this week.”
The suspense over the FBI report’s findings is the latest twist in what has been the most unorthodox, contentious and partisan Supreme Court confirmation process in memory, with such raucous protests against Kavanaugh that the Senate is nearly locked down with security.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) will read the report first, followed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top committee Democrat, with members of the two parties alternating an hour at a time for the rest of the day, CNN reported.
The results of that quick probe could be decisive: Uncommitted Republicans Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said they will base their vote for or against Kavanaugh on whether the report corroborates the accusations.
Senators are not allowed to discuss the contents of the report, but many may refer to it in this case because it is playing such a central role in the extraordinary process.
A handful of Republicans and Democrats have not decided whether to support Kavanaugh. Their votes will probably decide whether he is confirmed.
With a 51-vote majority, McConnell (R-Ky.) can afford to lose the vote of only one of the uncommitted Republicans — if he doesn’t get votes of either undecided red-state Democrats Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota or Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Democrats complained the report is too rushed and too limited into the allegations by Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house party when they were teenagers and by Deborah Ramirez that he exposed himself to her at a Yale dorm party.
With a one-week time limit, the FBI has interviewed three people Ford said were at the party where she was allegedly assaulted, including Kavanaugh friend Mark Judge, who she said was in the room at the time, and Ramirez, news reports said.
The FBI also has talked to Tim Gaudette, who held the party Kavanaugh marked down in a July 1, 1982, calendar entry that lists some of the people Ford said attended the party she remembered, and Chris Garret, another Kavanaugh classmate listed on the calendar entry at that gathering, news reports said.
But the FBI has not interviewed Ford, her lawyers said, or Kavanaugh. And Democrats said the FBI hasn’t talked to a dozen other witnesses identified by Ramirez or the many people who have submitted tips to the FBI tip line.
“We have no idea if the FBI is doing a real investigation or simply preparing a fig leaf — at the direction of the White House — for Republicans to vote yes,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
McConnell defended the investigation, and said again it will be available only to senators when done. “Then, pursuant to last week’s agreement of a delay no longer than one week, the Senate will vote on this nomination this week,” he said.
Mike Zubrensky, a former deputy assistant attorney general who supervised such vetting in the Obama administration, said a 2009 committee memo released by Grassley on Tuesday outlines what the practice of sharing FBI reports includes.
The FBI sends the completed report either to the Justice Department or the White House counsel, which then transmits it to the Senate. Only one copy of the report exists and is kept in a safe, said Zubrensky, now chief counsel for the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights.
“Only the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and designated staff members are permitted to look at the report itself,” he said. “Senators who are not members of the committee will get an oral briefing from a designated staff member.”
A designated staff member can carry that copy into senators’ offices, but any notes that the members take must either be destroyed or locked up with the report.