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Trump court nominee clears first hurdle

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Judge Brett Kavanaugh

A US Senate committee has voted to approve Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court as discussions continue over a possible FBI inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct.

The vote came as a key Republican senator said he wanted a week’s delay in confirmation hearings for Judge Kavanaugh to allow this to happen.

However, Jeff Flake supported the vote to pass the nomination from the Judiciary Committee to the full Senate.

The final vote was 11-10 in favour.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, now a professor of psychology in California, who says Judge Kavanaugh – nominated to the court by President Donald Trump – sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers in the 1980s.

Judge Kavanaugh also testified on Thursday, angrily denying he had ever assaulted her or anyone else – and accusing Democrats of politicizing the process and harming his family and good name.

Friday saw the Senate Judiciary Committee split along partisan lines in passing a motion to hold a vote on passing Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate.

Democrats accused the 11 Republicans of attempting to rush the process, while Republicans countered that the 10 Democrats were using the sexual assault allegations in an attempt to delay – and ultimately block – the conservative judge from joining the Supreme Court.

But later, after impassioned speeches from both sides in the committee and later discussions between members, the time for the vote came and went without one being held.

Amid much confusion, Mr Flake clarified to the committee that he would back the motion to send Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination for a full vote on the Senate floor – but would not support his confirmation in the Senate without the FBI probe for which the Democrats and the American Bar Association had called. The vote then went ahead.

Republicans control the Senate by a narrow 51-49 majority. Without the support of Mr Flake and one other Republican senator – and assuming all Democrats vote against – the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh cannot occur.

Two other senators considered “swing” votes that could go either way – Republican Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Democrat Joe Manchin (West Virginia) – have already indicated that they support Senator Flake’s call for a delay.

A simple majority of those present is needed for the confirmation. If there is a tie, the vice-president, who presides over the Senate, casts the deciding vote.

The Supreme Court plays a vital role in US political life – appointed for life, its nine members have the final say on US law.

This includes highly contentious social issues, such as abortion, and challenges to government policy.

Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment could tilt the balance in favour of conservatives for years to come.

Mr Flake, who often differs from Mr Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress, issued a statement shortly before Friday’s session stating that he would back Judge Kavanaugh.

On his way to the committee room, he was berated by two women who said they were victims of sexual violence and urged him to change his mind.

Speaking to reporters at the White House after the committee vote, Mr Trump said he would leave it to Senate leaders to decide how to proceed.

“Whatever they think is necessary is okay,” he said. “They have to do what they think is right.”

But he continued to support Judge Kavanaugh, saying he had not thought “even a little bit” about a replacement – but added that he had found Dr Ford a “credible witness”.

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