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President Trump may have liked the raw, partisan belligerence of Brett Kavanaugh’s outlandish performance. But when it was over, every Republican in the Senate must have known they needed more cover before they could vote for him.

Republican senator Jeff Flake of Arizona just provided it. On Friday, he voted with other Republicans on the committee to advance Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate. But Flake said he won’t support final confirmation until the FBI investigates accusations of sexual assault made against Kavanaugh. Afterwards, two other senators who are considered swing votes — Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, and Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia — supported Flake’s call for a delay, the Washington Post reported.

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The failure to order an FBI investigation was a problem from the start. Anyone who has watched a single episode of “Law and Order” understands that allegations of the sort made by Christine Blasey Ford should be properly investigated by law enforcement. That means interviewing witnesses. Then the allegations are either dismissed or prosecuted. The refusal to follow standard procedure in this case made Kavanaugh and his supporters look like they had something to hide.

Republicans seemed willing to take the bad optics that went along with skipping an FBI inquiry. But then came Kavanaugh’s outrageously defiant, woe-is-me act before the Senate Judiciary Committee. His hostility toward Democrats put to rest any pretense that he’s going to the Supreme Court as an unbiased arbiter of law and justice. Kavanaugh didn’t look like a distinguished federal judge on the cusp of elevation to the Supreme Court. He looked like a political bully manipulating his base — in other words, just like Trump. That works in the political arena. It doesn’t work, or shouldn’t, in the judicial branch of government.

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An FBI investigation gives the Senate an opportunity to hit the pause button. It may turn up nothing, allowing Republicans to hold their noses and vote to confirm a troubling nominee. But it could also elicit information that makes it easier to revisit that list of available conservative judges who have the temperament to sit on the Supreme Court — and high school yearbooks that doesn’t include references to drinking and other bad-boy behavior.

At the very least, it gives Republicans time to consider whether Kavanaugh’s confirmation is worth the price to their party — not to mention the integrity of the Supreme Court.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.