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What the hell just happened on Capitol Hill?


The Senate Judiciary Committee was on track to barrel through the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when, at the last moment, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake upset the applecart...or did he? On the way to the committee meeting, and after he had announced he would be voting “yes” to advance the nomination out of committee, Flake was cornered in an elevator by two sexual assault survivors. As senators were exchanging remarks ahead of the vote, Flake abruptly went over to friend Delaware Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat, and the two men absented themselves.

The committee hastily reconvened and Senator Chuck Grassley offered the floor to Flake, who announced he now felt he could only offer his vote in exchange for a one-week delay while the FBI reopens its background investigation into Kavanaugh in light of the sexual assault allegations against him. Amid much cross-chatter from Senators confused by the turn of events, the committee agreed on a verbal, non-binding compromise whereby the committee would support the delay, but the only vote taken was the one to advance the nomination out of committee.

Much remains murky about how this agreement would play out. Since the vote to advance the nominee has already been made, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t technically need to honor the deal: He can call a cloture vote on Saturday to end debate and have a final vote on Tuesday. But McConnell might not want to alienate Flake and lose a vote in what is likely to be a close decision.

Further, if the FBI investigation goes through—which would likely require authorization from Trump, as the Senate does not control the executive branch—it could help Kananaugh’s nomination. If the FBI finds no wrong-doing or comes to an ambiguous conclusion (as seems entirely plausible for a one-week investigation of a three-decades old case) this might give coverage to those Republicans who are reportedly undecided, like Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Maine Senator Susan Collins. Murkowski has already said she supports the FBI investigation.