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With a Key Vote Secured, Senators Will Advance Kavanaugh’s Nomination

WASHINGTON — Senator Jeff Flake, the lone swing Republican vote on the Judiciary Committee, said Friday morning that he would vote to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, ensuring committee passage and bringing President Trump’s nominee to the brink of confirmation less than 24 hours after a remarkable public hearing with a woman accusing him of sexual assault.

Mr. Flake of Arizona announced his decision just moments before the 21 senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee gathered to hold the first of a series of votes on the nomination. As other Republicans lined up in support of Judge Kavanaugh as he denied the accusations, it had been unclear how Mr. Flake would vote after hearing tearful and compelling accounts from Judge Kavanaugh and the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.

[Four key takeaways from the hearing.]

“After hearing more than 30 hours of testimony from Judge Kavanaugh earlier this month, I was prepared to support his nomination based on his view of the law and his record as a judge,” Mr. Flake said in statement Friday morning.

“Our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence,” he continued. “That is what binds us to the rule of law.”

With Mr. Flake’s vote, Republicans on the committee have enough votes to advance the judge’s nomination to the full Senate. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s chairman, pushed through a party-line vote at the beginning of the hearing that set a final committee vote for 1:30 p.m.

In a repeat of Thursday’s hearing, the tenor in the hearing room on Friday was raw even by the standards of a highly partisan Senate. About a dozen House Democratic lawmakers — most of them women — filled the back of the hearing room to support Dr. Blasey and object to confirmation. More waited outside, unable to get in the room. And Democrats on the panel pointedly accused Republicans of a cover-up.

“This Judiciary Committee is no longer an independent branch of government,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the chamber’s longest serving Democrat and a former chairman of the committee. “We’re an arm and a very weak arm of the Trump White House. Every semblance of independence has just disappeared. It’s just gone.”

Democrats repeatedly pointed to accusations from two other women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, who said that they either experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct by a drunken young Mr. Kavanaugh in high school or college. Judge Kavanaugh denied their claims, but neither woman was called to testify.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, moved almost as soon as the meeting began to subpoena Mark Judge, a friend of Judge Kavanaugh’s that Dr. Blasey and another accuser have placed at the scene of the incidents. Along party lines, the committee voted it down.

When Mr. Grassley initiated a vote to set the 1:30 deadline, some Democrats refused to even weigh in.

“This is just a total railroad job,” yelled Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii. Ms. Hirono and others then walked out of the hearing room. Outside, joined by the House Democrats, they called on Republicans to wake up and predicted an overwhelming backlash throughout the country.

“Make no mistake: the truth will come out about Judge Kavanaugh,” Mr. Blumenthal told reporters. “It’s only a matter of time.”

The committee also ignored a request Thursday evening from the head of the American Bar Association to postpone the vote until Dr. Blasey’s sexual assault allegation, and those from other women, were investigated by the F.B.I. It was a significant request from the organization, which had previously endorsed Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. During testimony on Thursday, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, singled out the weight the association carries in the legal community, calling it “the gold standard.”

Mr. Grassley allowed Democrats to voice their objections, but he defended the committee. Republicans gave Dr. Blasey a hearing, he said, but it is up to the accuser to prove guilt. He also said, as he has before, that no F.B.I. investigation was necessary.

“Frankly, we’ve reached the point when it’s to end the circus,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah. “It is time to show some dignity around here.”

If the committee votes in favor of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination for the lifetime appointment, the question of whether he should be the next Supreme Court justice would go to the full Senate. Only a handful of senators have said they were undecided — Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a Democrat.

Before Mr. Flake announced his position, White House spokesman Raj Shah said on Friday morning that he “cannot say for certain” that the four senators would vote in favor of Judge Kavanaugh. In an interview with CNN, Mr. Shah said Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony on Thursday helped move the senators in “the right direction.”

Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey provided hours of moving testimony on Thursday, streaming live on cable news networks, as the committee and the nation heard Dr. Blasey’s trembling account of a sexual assault and Judge Kavanaugh’s enraged denial and defense of his reputation.

Senators on the committee will decide whether Dr. Blasey’s story was too credible to risk putting a judge accused of sexual assault on the Supreme Court or whether Judge Kavanaugh’s denials were convincing enough to go through with the nomination, despite Dr. Blasey’s accusation.

[Analysis: She said. Then he said. What will the senators say?]

Dr. Blasey said she was “one hundred percent” sure that Judge Kavanaugh is the teenager who tried to rape her at a small party during the summer of 1982 in a Washington suburb. Judge Kavanaugh was just as certain that the event never happened: “Zero, I’m 100 percent certain.”

Just after Mr. Flake’s announcement, the senator was confronted at a Senate elevator by two crying women who said they had been sexually assaulted.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you,” one woman said. “You are telling me that my assault doesn’t matter, that what happened to me doesn’t, and that you’re going to let people who do these things into power. That’s what you’re telling me when you vote for him. Don’t look away from me.”

Mr. Flake stood largely mute, his gaze mainly to the ground, as the women held open the elevator and made their case to no avail.

[Read a transcript of the confrontation.]

Mr. Flake has given few hints in recent days about his vote. He pushed hard behind the scenes for Thursday’s hearing to happen, telling party leaders he could not vote yes without hearing from Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh. But his public remarks in recent days, focused primarily on the dignity that had been stripped from the nomination process, have left fellow senators scratching their heads.

He declined to question Judge Kavanaugh on Thursday, using his brief remarks in the hearing room to chastise colleagues for their maximalist positions.

“There is doubt,” he said. “We’ll never move beyond that.”

But Republican leaders felt confident enough that they had Mr. Flake’s support late Thursday to go forward with Friday’s vote.

Mr. Flake met privately after the hearing Thursday night with Ms. Collins, Ms. Murkowski, and Mr. Manchin. After the meeting, Mr. Manchin, who is running for re-election in a state that supported Mr. Trump in 2016, said he had not made up his mind.

And in a meeting of Senate Republicans a short time later, Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski both addressed their colleagues in comments that three Republicans familiar with said were focused on ensuring that Judiciary Committee staff had taken all reasonable steps to evaluate Dr. Blasey’s claim and others. The two women did not tip their hands, the people said.

Behind the scenes, the White House and the Judiciary Committee Republicans were working to reassure the senators.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.


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