WASHINGTON: The US Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday gave its backing to Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump's embattled pick for the Supreme Court, one day after he fought off allegations of sexual assault at a dramatic day-long hearing that riveted the nation.
The panel split along strict party lines with the 11 Republican members backing Kavanaugh and all 10 Democrats voting against the president's controversial nominee -- whose lifelong appointment would tilt the top court decisively to the right.
In an 11th-hour move, however, Arizona Republican Jeff Flake asked for a delay of up to a week before Kavanaugh's nomination is put to a vote in the full Senate to allow for an FBI probe into the allegations against him.
"This country's being ripped apart," said Flake, a vocal critic of the president who is not seeking re-election. "And we have to ensure that we do due diligence here."
The committee vote took place under extraordinarily tense circumstances, with America's political polarization on full display on Capitol Hill as Kavanaugh's supporters and opponents squared off in hearing rooms and protest-filled hallways.
It came a day after Kavanaugh furiously refuted the testimony of 51-year-old university professor Christine Blasey Ford, who told a packed hearing room he sexually assaulted her 36 years ago, in marathon hearing stretching over nine hours.
The emotional, duelling accounts sent Republican and Democratic senators into a full uproar of insults and festering recriminations.
President Trump whole-heartedly reaffirmed support for Kavanaugh to join the nation's top bench after the hearing, and in moving ahead on Kavanaugh's nomination, Republicans rejected calls to further investigate the assault claims.
Asked on Friday whether he had considered looking for a new Supreme Court candidate, Trump told reporters: "Not even a little bit."
"I just want it to work out well for the country," he added, when asked about the acrimonious fallout from the previous day's hearing.
All eyes will now be on Flake, as well as two key Republican women, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, to see if they break ranks in the full Senate vote, with Republicans holding a slim 51-49 majority.
Protestors swarmed the halls of the Capitol and chanted outside the Supreme Court ahead of the panel vote, saying support for Kavanaugh sent a message to women to not go public with their allegations of rape and sexual abuse.
After Thursday's hearing, the nation's leading legal organization, the American Bar Association -- which initially endorsed Kavanaugh -- called for the vote to be postponed until an FBI investigation could be carried out.
But the Senate committee of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats plowed ahead, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted the full Senate would hold a confirmation vote "in the coming days."
"There is simply no reason to deny Judge Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court on the basis of evidence presented to us," Grassley said.
Democrats expressed outrage and some walked out of the committee meeting earlier Friday after Republicans unanimously backed taking a vote.
"It's almost surreal," veteran Democrat Patrick Leahy told colleagues, saying the Senate was "no longer an independent branch of government."
Female Democratic members of the House of Representatives stood in the back of the room in protest, while demonstrators in the hallways chanted "November is coming!" -- a reference to the upcoming midterm congressional elections. Several were arrested.
Flake was earlier confronted by irate women who said they were victims of sexual assault.
"Don't look away from me! Look at me and tell me that it doesn't matter what happened to me, that you'll let people like that go to the highest court on the land," one weeping woman told an uncomfortable Flake.
BREAKING: Trump says he found Kavanaugh accuser's testimony `very compelling,' but says no consideration of replacing nominee.— The Associated Press (@AP) September 28, 2018
Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy, who had been a swing vote on a court now divided between four conservative and four liberal justices.
Two Republicans would need to defect, with all Democrats voting in opposition, in order to sink Kavanaugh in the full Senate vote.
A defiant Kavanaugh came out with guns blazing on Thursday, insisting the assault never happened, accusing Democrats of destroying his reputation and condemning his confirmation battle as a "national disgrace."
"I categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation by Dr Ford," Kavanaugh said, his voice shaking with anger as he fought back tears.
"I've never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not in college, not ever."
In addition to Blasey Ford, two other women have come forward with allegations of assault against Kavanaugh, against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement.
As Thursday's marathon hearing wrapped up, Trump weighed in to stand by his man.
"Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him," he tweeted, minutes after the hearing adjourned.
During four hours of emotionally intense testimony, Blasey Ford said she was "100 percent" certain that Kavanaugh was the person who assaulted her at a high school party in suburban Maryland in 1982.
She said a drunken Kavanaugh and a friend of his, Mark Judge, pushed her into a bedroom, that Kavanaugh pinned her down and muffled her cries as he tried to pull off her clothes.
Democrats have pleaded with Grassley to subpoena Judge to appear before the committee to answer their questions, but the chairman has refused.