Sens. Orrin Hatch, Mike Lee back Kavanaugh as nomination moves to full Senate with vote pending a one-week FBI investigation

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, listens to a reporter's question after a Republican lunch meeting on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington • Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah voted to advance Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to the full Senate on Friday as another GOP colleague, Jeff Flake of Arizona, successfully pushed for a one-week delay before a final vote while the FBI investigates allegations of sexual misconduct.

Senate leaders agreed to Flake’s demand and asked President Donald Trump to initiate the FBI probe into accusations of three women who say Kavanaugh either assaulted them or acted inappropriately.

Kavanaugh, a federal circuit court judge, has denied the allegations.

Trump, in a statement, said he had ordered a “supplemental FBI background investigation [that] must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week.”

Kavanaugh, meanwhile, said he’s been an open book and will continue to be.

“Throughout this process, I’ve been interviewed by the FBI, I’ve done a number of ‘background’ calls directly with the Senate, and yesterday, I answered questions under oath about every topic the senators and their counsel asked me,” Kavanaugh said in a statement released by the White House. “I’ve done everything they have requested and will continue to cooperate.”

"The supplemental FBI background investigation would be limited to current credible allegations against the nominee and must be completed no later than one week from today,” the Judiciary Committee said in a statement.

The GOP-led committee split squarely along partisan lines, 11-10, to forward Kavanaugh’s name toward confirmation, though Flake’s last-minute deal struck with Democrats means that the Supreme Court will start its new session Monday with just eight justices.

Hatch, a former Judiciary Committee chairman who has defended Kavanaugh, strongly condemned a delay during a morning hearing before Flake — who says he’ll support the nominee — argued for a short wait.

“We can’t allow more time for new smears to damage Judge Kavanaugh, his family, his reputation, the reputation of the court, and, of course, the reputation of the country,” Hatch said. “We cannot allow more time for partisans on the left to try to beat Judge Kavanaugh into submission.”

Hatch has said that he believes Kavanaugh over the accusers, including Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before the committee Thursday.

“We shouldn't prolong this … without knowing that in the meantime Judge Kavanaugh and our country will be dragged through the mud,” Hatch added. “We can end this.”

Hatch later said he backed the short delay, even though he'd like to vote sooner.

“While I personally believe it is appropriate to proceed with Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation at this time, I recognize that some members feel that additional investigation could be useful,” Hatch said in a statement. “I support the decision for an investigation limited in length and scope as described today. This will address the concerns raised by Sen. Flake and others while also being fair to the Kavanaugh family.”

Lee, who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, said an FBI investigation would have been appropriate if it were launched as soon as Democrats knew there was an allegation of wrongdoing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., received a letter in July from Ford, a California research psychologist who alleges Kavanaugh pinned her down and groped her during a high school party when they were both teenagers. Ford requested anonymity.

'There's been a lot of talk for the need for an FBI investigation,” Lee said. “There are many of us who wish that's where it would have begun, as it should have begun. At an earlier time.”

But since that didn’t happen, Lee said, “our job now is to vote.”

Lee later said in a statement that he would support an FBI probe since some of his colleagues want one.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee completed a professional investigation of Dr. Ford’s allegation this week,” Lee said. “But since some of my colleagues believe one more week of FBI investigation will bring us closer to truth, I support that investigation and I look forward to voting for Judge Kavanaugh soon.”

Hatch and Lee had both said they found Ford's testimony Thursday compelling but that they didn't find enough evidence to prove Kavanaugh had been the one who assaulted Ford.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, he would replace retired Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy and likely shift the court to the right.

Republicans hold 51 seats in the Senate and can afford to lose one member and still confirm Kavanaugh if Vice President Mike Pence casts a tie-breaking vote. With the exception of a few Democrats from red states, who haven’t said how they’ll vote yet, the minority party is lockstep in opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination.

After Thursday’s exchange with an emotional Ford testifying about the alleged incident and Kavanaugh offering a fiery rebuttal, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the Senate should reject his nomination.

“I listened closely to both her and Judge Kavanaugh. And I believe her,” Leahy said.

“I will be voting no on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination,” the senator, a former Judiciary Committee chairman, added. “He does not have the veracity nor temperament for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in our nation. And no such nominee should be confirmed in the face of such serious, credible, and unresolved allegations of sexual assault.”