McConnell tweaks strategy for Kavanaugh confirmation

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 midweek, forcing a critical procedural vote as early as Friday, which would set up a final vote on Kavanaugh early next week. But that timetable means the FBI investigation must be complete by Wednesday, and that’s where the situation becomes dicey for McConnell. The Senate will not want to vote until the FBI report is completed, according to an agreement reached by undecided senators and GOP leaders.

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.

Senate Republicans believe that if the FBI investigation shows no new information, it will quickly lead to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, according to two GOP officials. But they also acknowledge there’s some risk in handing off an investigation to the FBI, particularly if there are discrepancies between Kavanaugh’s testimony and witness interviews conducted by federal agents.

McConnell’s deputies were coy on whether the Kentucky Republican would move to end debate before the FBI probe is completed.

“People need to understand that we’ve done what’s asked,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “We’ve asked [Flake, Collins and Murkowski] what they need, and this is what they said, so my assumption is once they’re satisfied with the results of the supplemental investigation, they’ll be satisfied to go ahead and vote.”


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