It seems there just might be a limit to how much obvious obstruction that Senate Republicans are willing to deal with from Trump, even when the subject is getting Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court as quickly as possible.
But let's be clear here: Mitch McConnell doesn't care about the investigation at all, and will ram Kavanaugh's nomination through a full vote regardless. The fix is still very much in.
The White House has authorized the F.B.I. to expand its abbreviated investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh by interviewing anyone it deems necessary as long as the review is finished by the end of the week, two people briefed on the matter said on Monday.
The new directive came in the past 24 hours after a backlash from Democrats, who criticized the White House for limiting the scope of the bureau’s investigation into President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. The F.B.I. has already interviewed the four witnesses its agents were originally asked to talk to, the people said.
Mr. Trump said on Monday that he favored a “comprehensive” F.B.I. investigation and had no problem if the bureau wanted to question Judge Kavanaugh or even a third accuser who was left off the initial witness list if she seemed credible. His only concerns he said, were that the investigation be wrapped up quickly and that it take direction from the Senate Republicans who will determine whether Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed.
“The F.B.I. should interview anybody that they want within reason, but you have to say within reason,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden after an event celebrating a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. “But they should also be guided, and I’m being guided, by what the senators are looking for.”
Senate Republican leaders, however, made clear that they planned to move forward with the confirmation without waiting for the results of the investigation. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said the Senate would take a procedural vote on Friday so it could move quickly to final confirmation once the inquiry was over.
Chastising Democrats on the Senate floor, Mr. McConnell said that he would “bet almost anything” that they would be unsatisfied with the scope of the investigation regardless of how far it went. Reading through a selected summary of Democrats’ comments about the matter, he said, “Do these actions suggest this has ever been about finding the truth?”
So the Senate will vote on cloture Friday, and then anytime after that McConnell can hold the final confirmation vote. It's clear he will do so as soon as he possibly can.
But it's also clear that, as I said before, he doesn't have the votes yet. The White House still isn't considering pulling Kavnaugh, they can't at this juncture. If they do, it all comes crashing down and they know it. But they still don't know if they can get to 50 for a final vote.
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, said that the White House counsel should make public what he has told the F.B.I. and emphasize that it was not “the partisan Republican Senate staff that is directing this investigation.” In an interview, Mr. Schumer added, “You can do a full investigation in the seven-day requirement, and that’s what senators on both sides of the aisle expect.”
The revised White House instruction amounted to a risky bet that the F.B.I. will not find anything new in the next four days that could change the public view of the allegations. Republicans have resisted an open-ended investigation that could head in unpredictable directions. But the limited time frame could minimize the danger even as it increases the likelihood that F.B.I. interviews do not resolve the conflicting accounts.
There's also the problem that the Republican plan to claim an anti-liberal backlash to propel Kavanaugh and the GOP to victory and then have it magically materialize isn't actually working.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court convened today with only eight members. This was supposed to be a done deal by now, an easy slam dunk like Gorsuch. This is why Republicans stuck with Trump until this point. With Kavanaugh confirmed, Trump would have served his usefulness and a lasting, generational conservative majority on SCOTUS could undo decades, if not centuries of classic liberalism.
But Kavnaugh's stories are coming apart. The FBI might not find anything. The press sure as hell is help them with the hunting.
In the days leading up to a public allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh exposed himself to a college classmate, the judge and his team were communicating behind the scenes with friends to refute the claim, according to text messages obtained by NBC News.
Kerry Berchem, who was at Yale with both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Deborah Ramirez, has tried to get those messages to the FBI for its newly reopened investigation into the matter but says she has yet to be contacted by the bureau.
The texts between Berchem and Karen Yarasavage, both friends of Kavanaugh, suggest that the nominee was personally talking with former classmates about Ramirez’s story in advance of the New Yorker article that made her allegation public. In one message, Yarasavage said Kavanaugh asked her to go on the record in his defense. Two other messages show communication between Kavanaugh's team and former classmates in advance of the story.
The texts also demonstrate that Kavanaugh and Ramirez were more socially connected than previously understood and that Ramirez was uncomfortable around Kavanaugh when they saw each other at a wedding 10 years after they graduated. Berchem's efforts also show that some potential witnesses have been unable to get important information to the FBI.
And in the end, there's one thing I do know: Mitch doesn't have the votes yet.
As the FBI rushes to finish an investigation into sexual abuse allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is concentrating all his efforts on the "Gang of Three."
McConnell’s focus right now is entirely on the triumvirate of GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona. McConnell needs two out of the three to back Kavanaugh in order for the nomination to succeed, and he is walking a fine line in addressing their concerns while continuing to press toward a final Senate vote.
McConnell has subtly tweaked his language on the Kavanaugh nomination. He’s no longer vowing to “plow right through” and confirm Kavanaugh, as he was just last week, crafting his message instead to appeal to the three Republicans who remain on the fence.
The Kentucky Republican is currently planning a move to end debate on the nomination by mid-week, forcing a critical procedural vote as early as Friday, which would set up a final vote on Kavanaugh by Sunday. But that timetable means the FBI investigation must be complete by Wednesday, and that’s where the situation become dicey for McConnell.
If the FBI doesn’t meet that Wednesday deadline, McConnell and Senate GOP leaders are likely to wait until the FBI report arrives before moving to end debate and starting the countdown clock on Kavanaugh, if only to avoid alienating the Collins-Murkowski-Flake group, according to GOP senators. That could delay the confirmation since Democrats are likely to use their procedural leverage to string out any Kavanaugh vote as long as they can.
He's probably going to get Flake. But he'd need either Collins or Murkowski too, and I don't know if he can get them at this point. Without them, even with Flake, he's at 49.
Again, betting on the courage of Republicans to stand up to Mitch has been a sucker's bet so far. But we don't have much more of a choice...and that's if Dems like Heitkamp and Manchin don't fold in the end too.