Washington • Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh gained the support of a key Republican senator Friday, virtually ensuring his nomination will advance to the full Senate a day after he adamantly denied sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, who insisted she’s “100 percent” certain he did.
Moments before the panel convened, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a member of the committee, announced he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh, who he said was entitled to the "presumption of innocence ... absent corroborating evidence."
"While some may argue that a different standard should apply regarding the Senate's advice and consent responsibilities, I believe that the Constitution's provisions of fairness and due process apply here as well," Flake said. "I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh."
The committee scheduled an afternoon vote on whether to recommend Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate. After the vote was scheduled, several Democratic members of the panel walked out.
Meanwhile, there were signs the remarkable testimony before the panel — in which Kavanaugh angrily declared his innocence and Ford calmly recounted the moment in which she says he attacked her — had registered negatively with two organizations whose support Kavanaugh had earlier received.
The American Bar Association, which previously gave Kavanaugh its highest rating of "well qualified," asked senators to delay all votes on him until the FBI can do a full background check on the assault claims — something President Donald Trump has refused to order.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said to reporters Friday that Kavanaugh has already "been through six separate background investigations by the FBI."
Late Thursday, the magazine of the Jesuit religious order in the United States withdrew its endorsement of Kavanaugh, saying the nomination was no longer in the interests of the country and "should be withdrawn."
"If Senate Republicans proceed with his nomination, they will be prioritizing policy aims over a woman's report of an assault," the America magazine editors wrote. "Were he to be confirmed without this allegation being firmly disproved, it would hang over his future decisions on the Supreme Court for decades and further divide the country."
Kavanaugh has repeatedly cited his Roman Catholic faith and his years as a student at the Jesuit-run Georgetown Prep school in Maryland.
Meanwhile, former President George W. Bush has been advocating for Kavanaugh with wavering senators in recent days, according to a person familiar with Bush's outreach who wasn't authorized to speak publicly.
The White House said it was also engaging with wavering GOP senators but provided few details. Trump is publicly standing by his nominee.
"His testimony was powerful, honest and riveting," he tweeted late Thursday. "The Senate must vote!"
Thursday's testimony appeared to have only sharpened the partisan divide over Trump's nominee. Republicans praised Ford's bravery in coming forward, but many of them said her account won't affect their support for Kavanaugh.
At the daylong session Thursday, Ford and Kavanaugh both said the event and the public controversy that has erupted 36 years later had altered their lives forever and for the worse — perhaps the only thing they agreed on during a long day of testimony that was a study in contrasts of tone as well as substance.
Telling her story in person for the first time, Ford, a California psychology professor, quietly told the nation and the Senate Judiciary Committee her long-held secret of the alleged assault in locked room at a gathering of friends when she was just 15. The memory — and Kavanaugh's laughter during the act — was "locked" in her brain, she said: "100 percent." Hours later, Kavanaugh angrily denied it, alternating a loud, defiant tone with near tears as he addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"You have replaced 'advice and consent' with 'search and destroy," he said, referring to the Constitution's charge to senators' duties in confirming high officials. Trump's tweet later used the same "search and destroy" language.
Repeatedly Democrats asked Kavanaugh to call for an FBI investigation into the claims. He did not.
"I welcome whatever the committee wants to do," he said.
Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has repeatedly declined as well.
Republicans are reluctant for several reasons, including the likelihood that further investigations could push a vote past the November elections that may switch Senate control back to the Democrats and make consideration of any Trump nominee more difficult.
Across more than 10 hours, the senators heard from only the two witnesses. Ford delivered her testimony with steady, deliberate certitude. She admitted gaps in her memory as she choked back tears and said she "believed he was going to rape me." Kavanaugh entered the hearing room fuming and ready to fight, as he angrily denied the charges from Ford and other women accusing him of misconduct, barked back at senators and dismissed some questions with a flippant "whatever."
"You may defeat me in the final vote, but you'll never get me to quit, never," he said.
Trump nominated the conservative jurist in what was supposed to be an election year capstone to the GOP agenda, locking in the court's majority for years to come. Instead the nomination that Republicans were rushing for a vote now hangs precariously after one of the most emotionally charged hearings Capitol Hill has ever seen. Coming amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct at the top of powerful institutions, it exposed continued divisions over justice, fairness and who should be believed. And coming weeks before elections, it ensured that debate would play into the fight for control of Congress.
Wearing a blue suit as Anita Hill did more two decades ago when she testified about sexual misconduct by Clarence Thomas, Ford described what she says was a harrowing assault in the summer of 1982: How an inebriated Kavanaugh and another teen, Mark Judge, locked her in a room at a house party as Kavanaugh was grinding and groping her. She said he put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams.
"I believed he was going to rape me," she testified, referring to Kavanaugh.
Judge has said he does not recall the incident and he reiterated that point in a letter to the committee released late Thursday.
The panel's Republicans on Friday blocked Democratic efforts to subpoena Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh's who has been described as a witness to the alleged assault on Ford. Grassley read Judge's statement that said: "I do not recall the events described by Dr. Ford in her testimony" and "I never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes."
An angry Kavanaugh, who testified after Ford on Thursday, declared: "My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed."
Kavanaugh, who has two daughters, said one of his girls said they should "pray for the woman" making the allegations against him, referring to Ford. "That's a lot of wisdom from a 10-year-old," he said chocking up. "We mean no ill will."
The judge repeatedly refused to answer senators' questions about the hard-party atmosphere that has been described from his peer group at Georgetown Prep and Yale, treating them dismissively.
"Sometimes I had too many beers," he acknowledged. "I liked beer. I still like beer. But I never drank beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone. "
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick, Juliet Linderman, Padmananda Rama, Matthew Daly, Julie Pace and AP photographers J. Scott Applewhite and Carolyn Kaster contributed to this report.