By Eric Bradner and Phil Mattingly, CNN
The Senate Judiciary Committee will once again be the scene of a national drama Friday as its members prepare to vote on President Donald Trump’s embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Senate Republicans do not currently have the votes to confirm Kavanaugh, multiple senior aides and senators tell CNN. But GOP leaders see a path to 50 votes — meaning they could lose one Republican and have Vice President Mike Pence break a potential tie — so they’re going to gamble with a damaged nominee who is viscerally opposed by Democrats.
Before the committee vote, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, presumed to be the swing vote on the committee, said he would back Kavanaugh. The panel has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.
Friday morning’s vote follows a wrenching, partisan hearing Thursday where Christine Blasey Ford detailed her sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh and he vehemently denied them. It sets into motion days of high drama on Capitol Hill, with the prospect of a conservative Supreme Court for a generation in the balance.
The committee action will be the first step in a series of votes to determine whether conservatives lock in a 5-4 majority on the court. After the committee votes, the current plan is to hold a procedural vote on the Senate floor midday Saturday and hold the final vote early next week.
In the full Senate, GOP leaders appear to have have 49 solid yes votes. Two Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — and three Democrats in red states — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — hold the future of Kavanaugh’s nomination in their hands.
Murkowski, Collins, Flake and Manchin huddled in a Capitol Hill office following the hearing Thursday. When they emerged, they would only tell reporters they were undecided and wanted to think about their impending decision.
During an intense, day-long hearing Thursday, Ford, a California professor, testified that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were both teenagers in the early 1980s. Kavanaugh later offered a vociferous and emotional defense, alternately shouting and tearing up on national television.
On Thursday, Ford told the committee she is “100%” certain it was Kavanaugh who attacked her at a party when the two were teenagers in 1982.
As the nation watched, she said she “believed he was going to rape me.” She told senators it has “haunted me episodically as an adult.”
Then, Kavanaugh denied that allegation and other accusations of sexual misconduct he has faced in recent days. He blamed Democrats for what he said was a “calculated and orchestrated political hit” designed to keep him off the Supreme Court. He also refused to support a Democratic push for an FBI investigation of the allegations.
“I’ve never done this,” Kavanaugh said of Ford’s assault charge. “It’s not who I am. I am innocent.”
Late Thursday night, the American Bar Association took the extraordinary step of recommending the Senate Judiciary Committee pause on Kavanaugh’s nomination until a FBI probe into the allegations is completed. The association had previously given Kavanaugh a unanimous “well-qualified” rating, its highest rating.
“The basic principles that underscore the Senate’s constitutional duty of advice and consent on federal judicial nominees require nothing less than a careful examination of the accusations and facts by the FBI,” said Robert Carlson, president of the organization, in a Thursday night letter addressed to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein.
“Each appointment to our nation’s Highest Court (as with all others) is simply too important to rush to a vote,” Carlson wrote. “Deciding to proceed without conducting additional investigation would not only have a lasting impact on the Senate’s reputation, but it will also negatively affect the great trust necessary for the American people to have in the Supreme Court.”