WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Republican-led committee approved President Donald Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court but moderate Republican Senator Jeff Flake called for an FBI investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against the judge before a final Senate vote.
Flake's intervention means a final Senate vote on the nomination could be delayed for up to a week so that the possible FBI investigation can be completed, if Republican Senate leaders agree to his demand.
"I will vote to advance the nominee to the floor with that understanding," Flake said.
Just before the scheduled vote in the Judiciary Committee, Flake left the committee room to talk to some Democrats, adding new drama to the proceedings. During the delay, senators and aides could be seen in the committee room having hushed conversations, with some going back and forth to an anteroom of the committee chamber.
Trump's fellow Republicans secured the votes to approve Kavanaugh in the sharply divided committee after Flake announced his support for the nominee earlier in the day. The full Senate must confirm Supreme Court appointments.
The committee, with tempers flaring on both sides, met the morning after a jarring and emotional hearing into sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh that gripped the country, with a university professor named Christine Blasey Ford accusing him of sexual misconduct. He denied the accusation.
One Republican, Senator John Kennedy, called Kavanaugh's confirmation process "an intergalactic freak show."
As the committee, with 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, set its vote, some Democrats left the room in protest. "What a railroad job," Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono said.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
It remained unclear if Republicans have the votes to confirm Kavanaugh on the Senate floor. Republicans hold a slim Senate 51-49 majority, making the votes of two other so-far undecided Republican moderates crucial: Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins.
Republican committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said he found Thursday's testimony from both Ford and Kavanaugh "credible," but added, "There's simply no reason to deny Judge Kavanaugh a seat on the Supreme Court on the basis of evidence presented to us."
The timing of the panel's session gave committee members little time to review Thursday's extraordinary testimony from Kavanaugh and Ford, who accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were high school students in 1982. Kavanaugh forcefully denied the accusations and accused Democrats of a "calculated and orchestrated political hit."
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee's senior Democrat, called Kavanaugh's remarks unseemly for a judicial nominee.
"This was someone who was aggressive and belligerent. I have never seen someone who wants to be elevated to the highest court in the country behave in that manner. In stark contrast, the person who testified yesterday and demonstrated a balanced temperament was Dr. Ford," Feinstein said.
Another Democrat, Amy Klobuchar, noted that Grassley had thanked Ford for her bravery but nevertheless failed to back any further investigation.
"Where is the bravery in this room?" Klobuchar asked.