Kavanaugh’s fate now rests with three GOP senators — Flake, Murkowski and Collins

WASHINGTON — It was a seesaw day of directly conflicting testimony and partisan sniping, but by the evening, the fate of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court lay — as it has all along — with three Republican senators.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, will determine whether Kavanaugh’s nomination moves forward toward confirmation this weekend, is delayed or goes down altogether.

Initially, after the compelling and credible testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee of Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday morning, influential conservatives said in text messages that Kavanaugh’s nomination was in trouble and fail, even as others close to the White House insisted the GOP should still press forward with the nomination.

24 PHOTOS
Brett Kavanaugh testifies regarding sexual assault allegations
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Brett Kavanaugh testifies regarding sexual assault allegations
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Family members of of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, including his wife Ashley (R) and mother Martha (L), listen to him testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., September 27, 2018. Win McNamee/Pool via REUTERS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. Supreme Court nominee�Brett Kavanaugh�angrily, tearfully and 'unequivocally' denied sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, after she told senators at a dramatic hearing that shes 'one hundred percent' certain he is the one who attacked her when they were teenagers. Photographer: Tom Williams/Pool via Bloomberg
White House Counsel and Assistant to the President for U.S. President Donald Trump, Donald McGahn, as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the US Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 27, 2018. SAUL LOEB/Pool via REUTERS
Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary committee regarding sexual assault allegations at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, U.S. September 27, 2018. Gabriella Demczuk/Pool via Reuters
Senate Judiciary Committee ranking members Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (R) and Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) question Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., September 27, 2018. Win McNamee/Pool via REUTERS
Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., September 27, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, left, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. Supreme Court nominee�Brett Kavanaugh�angrily, tearfully and 'unequivocally' denied sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, after she told senators at a dramatic hearing that shes 'one hundred percent' certain he is the one who attacked her when they were teenagers. Photographer: Win McNamee/Pool via Bloomberg
Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh arrives with his wife Ashley to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., September 27, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) presides over a hearing as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., September 27, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, leaves for a break from the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of a sexual assault in 1982, in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NB) speaks during U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's testimony before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in before testifying before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. Tom Williams/Pool via REUTERS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, smiles during Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, on September 27, 2018. - University professor Christine Blasey Ford, 51, told a tense Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that could make or break Kavanaugh's nomination she was '100 percent' certain he was the assailant and it was 'absolutely not' a case of mistaken identify. (Photo by Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW HARNIK/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) questions Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was called back to testify about claims by Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON D.C. - SEPTEMBER 27: U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) displays a judiciary committee document while questioning Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was called back to testify about claims by Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images)
Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) questions U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as he testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., on September 27, 2018. - University professor Christine Blasey Ford, 51, told a tense Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that could make or break Kavanaugh's nomination she was '100 percent' certain he was the assailant and it was 'absolutely not' a case of mistaken identify. (Photo by Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW HARNIK/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Senate Judiciary Committee members (L-R) Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) talk at the conclusion of the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was called back to testify about claims by Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON D.C. - SEPTEMBER 27: Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was called back to testify about claims by Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was called back to testify about claims by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images)
Ashley Estes Kavanaugh, wife of Supreme Court nominee�Brett Kavanaugh, listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. Kavanaugh�angrily, tearfully and 'unequivocally' denied sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, after she told senators at a dramatic hearing that she's 'one hundred percent' certain he is the one who attacked her when they were teenagers. Photographer: Jim Bourg/Pool via Bloomberg
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. Supreme Court nominee�Brett Kavanaugh�angrily, tearfully and 'unequivocally' denied sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, after she told senators at a dramatic hearing that shes 'one hundred percent' certain he is the one who attacked her when they were teenagers. Photographer: Andrew Harnik/Pool via Bloomberg
U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) listens to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., on September 27, 2018. - University professor Christine Blasey Ford, 51, told a tense Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that could make or break Kavanaugh's nomination she was '100 percent' certain he was the assailant and it was 'absolutely not' a case of mistaken identify. (Photo by JIM BOURG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM BOURG/AFP/Getty Images)
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“This is a disaster for Republicans,” Chris Wallace said on Fox News.

Two Republican governors in states dominated by Democratic voters — Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland — called early Thursday for the nomination to be suspended pending further investigation. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, a state with a more mixed electorate, on Wednesday called on Republicans to slow down the process to gather more information.

But the fiery denial of Ford’s accusation by Kavanaugh in the afternoon rallied the right, and seemed to stop the bleeding. It reduced the chances that the White House would feel the need to withdraw his nomination, a point President Trump made sure to impress upon members of the Judiciary Committee.

“Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him,” Trump said in a tweet posted at the conclusion of the judge’s interrogation. “His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”

(Republican senators, Susan Collins, Jeff Flake and Lisa Murkowski. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The focus Thursday night turned back to the three Republican senators whose support for Kavanaugh has been in question: Flake, Murkowski and Collins. Republicans have a 51-seat majority, and, with the potential vote of Vice President Mike Pence in the event of a 50-50 tie, can only afford to lose the support of one of their ranks.

Only Flake sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he did not tip his hand when he spoke at the end of the day-long hearing to briefly praise both Ford and Kavanaugh for their testimony. The senator, who is not seeking reelection and has long been an antagonist of President Trump, also said expressed regret that Kavanaugh and Ford and their families had had to endure the acrimony of the process.

17 PHOTOS
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee
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Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee
Christine Blasey Ford attends a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for her to testify about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Christine Blasey Ford, testifies before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. A professor at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Ford has accused Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Rachel Mitchell ask questions to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. A professor at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Ford has accused Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo By Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. A professor at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Ford has accused Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. In prepared remarks, Ford said, �t is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell the truth.� (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Christine Blasey Ford, testifies before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. A professor at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Ford has accused Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Senator Benjamin E. Sasse (R-NE) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) talks as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. A professor at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Ford has accused Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her during a party in 1982 when they were high school students in suburban Maryland. (Photo By Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in by chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on September 27, 2018, during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, focusing on allegations of sexual assault by Kavanaugh against Christine Blasey Ford in the early 1980s. (Photo by Tom Williams / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read TOM WILLIAMS/AFP/Getty Images)
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in by chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on September 27, 2018, during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, focusing on allegations of sexual assault by Kavanaugh against Christine Blasey Ford in the early 1980s. (Photo by Tom Williams / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read TOM WILLIAMS/AFP/Getty Images)
Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor from Arizona, waits for Christine Blasey Ford, to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS
Senate Republicans attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Christine Blasey Ford to testify about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Mike Lee (R-UT) before the start of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. Melina Mara/Pool via REUTERS
Senate Republicans attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Christine Blasey Ford to testify about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS
Senators Dianne Feinstein, left, and Richard Durbin attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Christine Blasey Ford to testify about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS
Senators Richard Durbin and Kamala Harris attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Christine Blasey Ford to testify about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS
Phoenix prosecutor Rachel Mitchell listens during opening statements before Christine Blasey Ford testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., September 27, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris talk at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Christine Blasey Ford to testify about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS
Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), committee chairman before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. Melina Mara/Pool via REUTERS
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“This is not a good process, but it’s all we’ve got,” Flake said before making an appeal to his fellow senators to moderate their partisanship and anger by keeping in mind the lack of certainty about what really happened 35 years ago, when Ford alleges that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her.

“There is doubt. We’ll never move beyond that, and just have a little humility on that front,” Flake said. He did not ask Kavanaugh any questions during Thursday’s remarkable session.

The Senate Republicans were scheduled to hold a meeting Thursday evening to discuss next steps. Before that meeting, Flake, Collins and Murkowski were reported to be meeting with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a conservative Democrat who sometimes votes with Republicans.

Spokespersons for Flake, Collins and Murkowski did not respond to questions about how they intended to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the high court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination Friday morning. If the committee, which has an 11-10 Republican majority, approves his nomination, it would go to the full Senate, where a final vote could happen on Saturday.

If, on the other hand, any of the three Republican senators in question asked that Ford’s allegations be investigated further, that could present another obstacle to the nomination.

But a statement at the end of the day by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, demonstrated the degree to which Kavanaugh’s afternoon testimony had shifted the momentum. Considered one of the more independent Republicans in the Senate, Portman gave his full-throated support for Kavanaugh at the conclusion of Thursday’s hearings.

“I believe allegations of sexual assault should be taken very seriously, and Dr. Ford deserved the opportunity to tell her story and be heard. I believe my job is to assess the facts that we have before us, and that’s very difficult when no corroboration exists regarding this allegation. Judge Kavanaugh has adamantly denied the allegation,” Portman said in his statement. “I have known Judge Kavanaugh for more than 15 years, I know his wife, Ashley, and I know his family. The Brett Kavanaugh I know is a man of integrity and humility. He also has the right qualifications and experience to serve on the Supreme Court. In fact, the American Bar Association has given him their highest rating, unanimously. I support his confirmation.”

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