WASHINGTON – After weeks of “lingering doubt,” Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake indicated Friday that he expects to vote for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who is now likely to be confirmed by a one-vote margin Saturday.
Flake joins fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl – who confirmed his support for Kavanaugh on Thursday – along with 48 other Republicans and one Democrat who have said they will vote to put Kavanaugh on the high court.
But Flake had been one of a handful of Republicans expressing concerns after decades-old allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh were leveled. They were aired in an emotional hearing last week that featured a fiery, partisan response from Kavanaugh.
Flake’s announcement Friday was far from wholehearted. It was only after reporters ambushed him as he was trying to get into a car at the Capitol that he said he planned to vote yes “unless something big changed.”
“This is a tough decision, obviously,” he says on posted videos of the encounter. “This is a difficult decision for everybody, it really is. So, anyway, we did our best.”
A potential swing vote who had been regularly targeted by protesters in recent weeks, Flake’s office was locked Friday and staff did not answer the door.
Protesters from both sides of the issue gathered outside his office throughout the day, greeted by police and reporters but no one from the office.
Emily Grossi, a protester from Maryland, accused Flake of locking a door on democracy, saying his was the only office she encountered Friday that was not open for constituents to voice their concerns.
“He’s going to lock a door on our voices and we’re going to have to slide notes under it?” Grossi asked. “Are you kidding me?”
But that’s just what she and a friend did, writing notes and shoving them under the office door, though they did not think the senator would read them.
Grossi said she wants to believe Flake is a good man and that he was telling the truth when he said he found Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, to be credible. But she said his actions Friday – the closed office, a “yes” in a preliminary vote and his plan to vote yes Saturday – made it increasingly difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Ford claimed that a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and attempted to take her clothes off while holding his hand over her mouth when they were both teenagers at a party in suburban Maryland in 1982.
After Ford’s testimony last week, Flake orchestrated a deal that delayed a vote on Kavanaugh to give the FBI time to investigate her allegations and Kavanaugh’s strident denials.
The FBI report, delivered Thursday, was kept under lock and key by Senate leaders and shown to senators one at a time. But Kavanaugh’s backers said the FBI did not find evidence to corroborate Ford’s accusations.
Many Kavanaugh supporters, like Laura Murphy, pointed to the investigation as reason to proceed with the confirmation. Murphy believes that boys and men of all ages are now at risk of having their lives sabotaged by false accusations, adding that she thinks all conservatives are now being targeted because of their beliefs.
“I think we all have husbands and fathers and a lot of us have sons, and I think it is a troubling time for them,” Murphy said. “And I feel bad, but I think that conservative women are under attack as well.”
Grossi called claims like that “degrading, frankly,” to both men and women. She said she regularly talks to her 9- and 12-year-old sons about consent and respecting women, and thinks men should be held to a higher standard.
-Cronkite News video by Daniel Perle
“If young boys behave well and with respect, they have nothing to worry about,” Grossi said. “It would not even occur to my children to behave in such a manner, and to suggest that that’s implicit boyishness is such utter disregard for all that boys can and should be.”
Former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe struck a tone that many Republicans have adopted in the case: Sympathy and respect for Ford, but due process for Kavanaugh.
“I think Judge Kavanaugh is a qualified individual and, while I am respectful of Professor Ford, I don’t think the evidence is there to corroborate her claims,” Kolbe said.
He said he was not surprised by the support for Kavanaugh from either of the Arizona senators, who he believes made the right choice.
Many Republicans accused Democrats of using Ford as a political pawn in the Kavanaugh confirmation fight. That argument was echoed by Arizona political consultant Jason Rose, who said Friday that it will backfire on Democrats by providing the GOP with “locler-room material” to energize its base in November.
“I think the Democrats with their approach have provided Republicans who were not fired up about this election so much locker-room material that they cannot wait to go out and vote,” Rose said.
He said Flake did the right thing, and he thinks America will understand the hesitancy after last week’s emotional testimony.
“I think Flake took a lot of heat, but he’s a human being and most human beings were affected by those hearings,” Rose said. “I think Jeff Flake’s approach on this, history will treat it kindly, not poorly.”