Thursday morning, members of the U.S. Senate are being ushered in, one by one, to a secure area to view what’s officially called the FBI’s supplemental background investigation of Brett Kavanaugh – the controversial nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by three women.
The report consists of summaries of the FBI’s interviews, but the media has not had access to the findings. In fact, Senate staffers are not even allowed to look at the report, which is on paper – not an electronic document – in order to prevent leaks. Secrecy is the operative word here because the report will not be made public.
Now, a timeline is beginning to form around the confirmation vote. GOP leaders plan a test vote sometime Friday, with a showdown roll call over Kavanaugh’s confirmation likely over the weekend. One of the central figures in that vote is getting his first look at the report: Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. Cornyn is widely regarded as the second most powerful person in the Senate, and getting enough Republicans to back the nominee may ultimately come down to him, says Maria Recio, Washington correspondent for the Austin American-Statesman.
Recio says as Senate Majority Whip, Cornyn’s style of wrangling votes reminds her of Lyndon Johnson’s persuasive “Johnson treatment” back when he was in the Senate. But Cornyn’s strategy also hinges on him being at the Capitol all the time.
“He’s all Kavanaugh all the time,” Recio says. “The trick to this is the face-to-face contact.”
Right now, Cornyn is working to get the three undecided Republican senators to come to his side: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona. There’s also two red-state Democrats who could potentially vote for Kavanaugh. All of the senators are reviewing the FBI report on Kavanaugh’s background check today, and Recio says Cornyn most likely prepared ahead of time for it to include more of the same accounts of heavy drinking that came up during Kavanaugh’s public hearing.
“I think he’s ready with that,” Recio says.
But she says what could be more problematic for Cornyn is President Donald Trump’s taunting of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, one of Kavanaugh’s accusers, during a campaign rally in Mississippi Tuesday.
“He said that that was a problem for him because two of the three Republicans he’s trying to persuade are women, and of course, they were particular offended by it,” Recio says. ” I think Sen. Flake was as well.”
She says Cornyn’s overall tactic is to be “ever-present,” and also to use his thoughtful manner and reserved nature in order to secure votes. That’s in part because regardless of how the Kavanaugh confirmation goes, this moment is a test for Cornyn’s political career overall.
“He said that this was the most difficult experience he’s had in his time as Whip, and by the way, that time as Whip is about to come to an end because it’s term-limited,” Recio says.
At the end of his six-year term, he will lose his office and security detail, and Recio says he’ll also lose the visibility he has now as a senator in a senior position. She says when his term’s up, he will be an aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but Cornyn is most likely looking to replace McConnell as leader one day.
“This would be a very important victory to make that happen,” Recio says.
Written by Caroline Covington.