The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The Senate has averted a supreme disaster — for now

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on Capitol Hill on Friday.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on Capitol Hill on Friday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

EARLY FRIDAY, it appeared the country was hurtling toward another miserable low point. Republicans were poised to rush through Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh despite credible and underinvestigated accusations of sexual assault, with no excuse beyond their desire to place a GOP nominee on the court before the midterm elections. This would have been yet another negative consequence of the moves both parties took to kill the Senate minority’s power to block judicial nominees.

Then Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) made a last-minute deal. Mr. Flake voted to advance Mr. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor — but simultaneously demanded that the FBI finally be tapped to investigate the accusations against the nominee. Mr. Coons agreed that it would be enough to give the FBI a week to investigate before the Senate moved to a final vote. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) quickly endorsed the idea, boxing in, for the moment, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who likely could not proceed further on Mr. Kavanaugh without at least Mr. Flake’s or Ms. Murkowski’s vote.

Kudos to Mr. Flake, Mr. Coons and the senators who stand with them for trying to defuse a tense situation that seemed destined to further entrench the increasingly tribal nature of American politics. “This country is being ripped apart here, and we’ve got to make sure we do due diligence,” Mr. Flake said. Mr. Coons added that Americans should see that Democrats and Republicans can work together.

Mr. McConnell should respect Mr. Flake’s wishes, even if he senses he might be able to wrangle 50 votes for Mr. Kavanaugh before the FBI is done. The Senate Judiciary Committee got the ball rolling Friday afternoon by formally requesting that President Trump engage the FBI to investigate “current credible allegations against the nominee,” a request that should have come two weeks ago. A potentially key witness, Kavanaugh high school friend Mark Judge, now seems likely to participate fully in the inquiry into the nominee’s past, and under the threat of criminal penalty should he lie. If after a week the FBI seems to be on the brink of serious substantiation — for accuser or accused — senators should be open to allowing more time.

The Senate should be delaying confirmation proceedings, anyway, until more documents from Mr. Kavanaugh’s time in the George W. Bush White House are turned over — documents Republicans have not even asked for. Republicans object that it would take weeks to sift through and release the relevant ones. Well, they should have begun weeks ago.

It is of course possible that a week’s investigation does not yield new evidence. But maybe it will. Either way, the Senate will be better off for having sought the facts, and the country will be better off for seeing that at least a few of its officials remain more interested in cooperating for the good of the nation than snarling from their partisan corners.

Read more:

The Post’s View: The Senate can’t vote on Kavanaugh now

Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent: Flake’s call for FBI investigation throws wrench in Kavanaugh machine

Michael Gerson: We just saw two humans laid bare

David Von Drehle: America, we are on our own

Alexandra Petri: It is very difficult to get the train to stop