This is not how Friday was supposed to go. After an emotionally draining 10-hour hearing Thursday in which Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified to the Senate about whether Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, it appeared the Senate Judiciary Committee would vote along partisan lines to move ahead with his nomination.
The committee did end up doing that, but Kavanaugh’s nomination is stalled for at least a week after key undecided senators demanded an FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh in exchange for their votes. Senate Republicans acquiesced.
It’s anyone’s guess what will happen in the week or so between now and a full Senate vote on Kavanaugh, with an FBI investigation being conducted in between.
Here’s our minute-by-minute breakdown of how Kavanaugh’s nomination got unexpectedly held up and Congress unexpectedly reached a compromise:
9:25 a.m.: The only undecided member of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), announces he’ll vote for Kavanaugh in the committee. That ensures that the judge’s nomination will secure the committee’s approval and advance to the full Senate — and it looks like game over for those who want it paused or stopped.
9:31 a.m.: Flake is confronted as he gets on an elevator by two women who oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination and, like many, viewed Flake as the only hope to stop it. CNN’s cameras capture it all: “You’re telling all women that they don’t matter — that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them, you’re going to ignore them.” The cameras stayed on as the exchange went on for more than four minutes as the women broke into tears and Flake listened, mostly silent.
Flake will later shake his head when reporters ask him if this moment had an impact on what he does next.
A few minutes later: The Judiciary Committee meets and starts off as expected, with Democrats and Republicans at each other’s throats. Republicans say they have no reason not to believe Kavanaugh’s denial that he sexually assaulted Ford, who testified she was “100 percent certain” he did. Democrats point out that Republicans didn’t dig into all the evidence.
Just after 10 a.m.: Several Democrats on the committee walk out, disrupting the proceedings. “This is just totally ridiculous,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “What a railroad job.”
12:20 p.m.: Despite those Democrats' absence, the committee meeting is still going. It’s Flake’s turn to speak. Instead, he stands up, taps Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) on the shoulder and they walk out of the room. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) joins them, reports The Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim, who has been watching all of this from the committee room. Flake later says grabbing Coons was his idea.
About 10 minutes later: They return, and it’s clear something’s up.
1:30 p.m.: The committee was scheduled to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination. But at this point, the meeting has all but broken up. The chairman, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), joins the senators conferring in a backroom out of the view of cameras and reporters. The Post’s congressional team reports that the conferring senators talked by phone to swing votes who do not sit on the committee, such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
1:36 p.m.: Grassley returns, followed by the rest of the senators. He announces he’s going to let Flake speak. And here’s where things really take a twist: Flake says he’s still going to vote for Kavanaugh’s nomination to move forward, but he warns that he won’t vote for Kavanaugh in the full Senate unless there is an FBI investigation first.
“I thought we ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important,” he said, adding later, “The Democrats have been justifiably concerned [about that process].”
1:55 p.m.: The committee votes along partisan lines, 11 to 10, to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Shortly after that, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) say they, too, will hold up their votes until there’s an FBI investigation. So does Collins. Republican leaders have no choice now; their slim two-vote majority isn’t enough to overcome this. By 3:40 p.m., they agree to let the FBI spend a week looking into Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. Kavanaugh’s nomination is delayed at least a week for something Republicans have spent the past two weeks resisting doing.
Put another way: A rancorous, divided Senate just compromised.