The historic Senate hearing featuring dueling testimony from US supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and university professor Dr Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused him of sexual assault, has arguably left Washington even more bitterly divided than it was before.
The emotionally charged proceedings on Thursday saw both Kavanaugh and Ford bring their cases before the Senate judiciary committee, leaving it in the hands of lawmakers to assess the credibility of their accounts and their characters and, ultimately, Kavanaugh’s suitability for America’s highest bench.
But even after an entire day’s testimony, the federal judge’s fate remains unclear. Here’s what the coming days will look like.
Senate committee to hold a vote
The Senate judiciary committee is tasked with clearing Kavanaugh’s nomination prior to the full chamber holding a vote, and has scheduled a vote for Friday morning. Republican leaders said they planned to go ahead with the session. “The committee is going to vote in the morning [Friday], and we’ll go forward,” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told NBC Thursday night.
The committee currently comprises 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, leaving the majority with little margin for error – if just one Republican breaks, the nomination will be left in limbo.
At least one Republican on the committee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, has expressed reservations about Kavanaugh amid the allegations. He has not signaled how he might vote, and was reported to be struggling with the decision Thursday night. “There’s more doubt than certainty moving ahead,” Flake said, according to CNN.
Regardless of the outcome of the committee vote, McConnell still has the authority to bring the nomination up for a vote in the full Senate. Under Senate procedures, it’s likely to be early next week before a vote takes place.
In the full Senate, Republicans can against only afford to lose one vote before Vice-President Mike Pence would be called in a tie-breaker.
All eyes are on crucial GOP swing-vote senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who have both raised concerns about Kavanaugh. Also in question is the vote of West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, who could break with the rest of his party and vote to confirm. The four undecided Senators huddled privately Thursday night, and none have announced a decision.
Senate committee defers vote
The vote could still be postponed if Republicans believe pressing forward might backfire or realize they don’t have the votes. The Senate GOP conference met behind closed doors late on Thursday to hash out a plan on how to proceed.
Though no Senators changed their mind, one key group urged a delay late Thursday. The American Bar Association, which had given Kavanaugh its highest endorsement, a unanimous “well-qualified” rating, urged the Judiciary Committee to hold off until the FBI has time to investigate the sexual assault allegations.
Republicans are nonetheless working against the clock to confirm Kavanaugh. McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has pledged to wrap up the supreme court process before the November midterm elections.
White House pulls nomination
On Wednesday, Donald Trump had not ruled out withdrawing Kavanaugh’s nomination, pending the outcome of Thursday’s hearing. Speaking with reporters at the United Nations, Trump defended Kavanaugh but said he looked forward to what Ford had to say.
“I can be persuaded also,” Trump said. “I’m going to see what’s said. It’s possible they will be convincing.”
Trump reportedly phoned Kavanaugh before Thursday’s hearing and urged him to push back forcefully, and many observers interpreted Kavanaugh’s aggressive testimony as intended for the president.
Then having restrained himself from Twitter all day, the president weighed in as the hearing wrapped with a resounding endorsement of his nominee, which now makes it extremely unlikely that the White House will torpedo their man.
“Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him,” Trump tweeted. “His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”
Kavanaugh also firmly vowed never to withdraw. “You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit. Never,” he told Senators.