Brett Kavanaugh cliffhanger may get delayed by 'no more than one week' as US Senators push for FBI probe; Jeff Flake plays star role in new twist

A lone US Senator Jeff Flake has tilted the delicate balance in the ongoing Brett Kavanaugh confirmation cliffhanger in the wake of sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump's Supreme Court pick, as he pushed for an FBI probe against Kavanaugh in what is clearly looking like a bipartisan left hook against the US president's hurry to get this wrapped up.

Flake, the deciding vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, voted to advance Kavanaugh's nomination to a full floor vote, but said the vote should be delayed for up to a week to allow time for the investigation of Christine Blasey Ford's claims.

Ford says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while the two were in high school. Kavanaugh has denied Ford's accusation.

 Brett Kavanaugh cliffhanger may get delayed by no more than one week as US Senators push for FBI probe; Jeff Flake plays star role in new twist

File image of US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. AP

Trump, who has accused the Democrats of obstruction and delay and has opposed the FBI probing the allegations against his nominee, said merely that he would "let the Senate handle that."

That's shorthand for the understanding that without Flake's vote, the nomination is in danger anyway. Given the razor thin margin that the ruling Republican party has in the Senate 51-49, every Senator matters and so it is in the case of Flake. Flake, who retires this year, has been at odds with Trump for many months now.

Trump was unusually subdued in his reaction to the latest twist Friday afternoon, saying good things about both the accuser and Kavanaugh. He called Ford "credible" and "very fine woman" and praised Kavanaugh's defence as "incredible" and "historic".

The dramatic scene of a possible one-week delay 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.

Flake, a key moderate Republican, was at the center 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.

Flake said that after discussing the matter with fellow senators, he felt it "would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to but not more than one week."

That increases the pressure on a handful of colleagues who haven't yet said whether they back Kavanaugh: Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

With a 51-49 majority, Senate Republicans have little margin for error, especially given the fact that several Democrats facing tough re-election prospects this fall announced their opposition to Kavanaugh on Friday. Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Jon Tester of Montana all said they would vote no.

(With Associated Press)

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Updated Date: Sep 29, 2018 00:32:20 IST