Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., on Friday defended his controversial decision to demand a delay in the confirmation vote of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, saying he wanted to protect the credibility of America’s institutions.
“Two institutions, really,” he told The Atlantic. “One, the Supreme Court is the lone institution where most Americans still have some faith. And then the U.S. Senate as an institution—we’re coming apart at the seams. There’s no currency, no market for reaching across the aisle. It just makes it so difficult.”
Flake dramatically made the call for a one week delay, so that an FBI investigation could be carried out into sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, at the final moments of a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier Friday.
While Flake voted to recommend Kavanaugh’s nomination, he also made the call for a limited investigation, throwing a proposed timetable that would have seen Kavanaugh confirmed Tuesday into turmoil.
Democrats had repeatedly called for an FBI probe, but Republicans had dismissed it as unnecessary and said Democrats were just looking for ways to delay the confirmation until after the midterm elections.
Kavanaugh testified Thursday about allegations made against him, shortly after Christine Blasey Ford testified about an alleged assault by Kavanaugh in 1982 when they were both at high school. Kavanaugh has emphatically denied all allegations against him.
Republicans agreed to Flake’s demand, which puts the vote to confirm Kavanaugh by at least a week.
“I’ve ordered the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation to update Judge Kavanaugh’s file," Trump said in a statement. "As the Senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week.”
The move sparked a backlash from conservatives, furious at the delay. However, Republicans have slim majorities in both the committee and the Senate and can't afford defections in the face of near-unanimous Democratic opposition.
Flake told The Atlantic that he was moved by an impassioned plea by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., calling for a delay. He also said that a moment when he was confronted by women who said they had been sexually assaulted “certainly struck a chord.”
He conceded that conservatives are right to be concerned that the time will be used by Democrats and left-wing activists to try and derail the confirmation.
“I’m sure that will happen. There are already people saying, ‘Oh a week’s not enough.’ We tried to limit the time duration for the investigation, and limit the scope to the current allegations. But no doubt some will try to use it, and it’s time for more accusations to come forward,” he said.
However, he also said that the delay could eventually help both Republicans, and Kavanaugh himself.
“Obviously. I’ve felt that this delay is as much to help him as us. My hope is that some Democrats will say “Hey, we may not change our vote, but this process was worthy of the institution, and we feel satisfied.” That means something,” he said. “The country needs to hear that.”