WASHINGTON — The sun shone over the U.S. Capitol and the rain stopped Friday afternoon, a lone bright note after a visceral two days of a Supreme Court fight that threatened to leave an ugly national scar.
"This has been an intergalactic freak show," said Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.). "As far as I'm concerned, Congress has hit rock bottom and started to dig."
By then, the nomination had become more than just a fight over a critical Supreme Court seat, but a generational dividing line, one likely to become a landmark moment of power, politics, and the treatment of women that would resonate for years, much like the Anita Hill hearings of 1991.
A last-ditch compromise Friday attempted to restore a measure of civility, while also ensuring that the intense debate over the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh would lurch into another week. A handful of senators agreed to an FBI investigation into "current credible" sexual-misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh, stalling any final vote until Friday, at the latest, and leaving the court and country on edge.
The Senate is scheduled to return Monday, with the procedural wheels turning and a nation awaiting the FBI's findings.
The late modicum of cooperation seemed unlikely to soothe much, though, after days of raw political combat, full of searing pain and anger, vulnerability and indignation. Two people, Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh, had their lives dissected, their families exposed and attacked on live TV in a spectacle that drove the national divide even wider.
There were competing claims, no clarity, a push by Republicans on Friday to quickly move on and an escalating cycle of anger. Both sides remained dug in, with no sign that Thursday's hearing had changed anything as Kavanaugh, amid a maelstrom of controversy, stood on the verge of becoming a decisive conservative vote on the Supreme Court.
The wrenching emotion played out in a scene carried late Friday afternoon by cable news, when two women who said they were sexual-assault victims confronted a key Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake, as he attempted to board a Capitol elevator.
"You're telling all women that they don't matter! That they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them, you're going to ignore them. That's what happened to me and that's what you're telling all women in America!" one said. "Look at me when I'm talking to you! You're telling me that my assault doesn't matter, that what happened to me doesn't matter and that you're going to let people who do these things into power!"
Some Democrats said the atmosphere in the Capitol was in the end no better than when Hill was grilled on her claims against now-Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, despite the Me Too movement against sexual harassment. Several senators on the committee walked out as the chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), ignored their appeals and motions.
"In certain respects, Thursday's hearing revealed that as a nation our politics are in a worse place than they were 27 years ago," Princeton political historian Julian Zelizer wrote on CNN's website.
Republicans fumed that a respected jurist who had cleared numerous background checks as he ascended through the ranks of official Washington was suddenly under a dark cloud, his reputation smeared, over accusations that were unproven and uncorroborated, and that he unequivocally denied.
Senators spoke in apocalyptic terms.
"I know I'm a single white male from South Carolina and I'm told I should shut up, but I will not shut up, if that's OK" said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). He said Kavanaugh's denial that he had sexually assaulted Ford was the most compelling personal defense he had heard, and accused Democrats of trying to destroy a man because they failed to win the elections that would have allowed them to fill such a critical Supreme Court seat.
"This has never been about the truth, this has been about delay and destruction," Graham said. "And if we reward this, it is the end of good people wanting to be judges. It is the end of any concept of the rule of law. It's the beginning of a process that will tear this country apart."
Democrats were equally inflamed, arguing that Kavanaugh had shown his partisan colors with his angry testimony at Thursday's hearing, that the GOP was so focused on securing a Supreme Court majority that it was content to brush off the lingering questions around what happened, without having the FBI investigate the competing claims and without questioning a supposed witness, Mark Judge, who was holed up in a Delaware shore town a few hours away.
Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) sat through the hours-long hearing Friday with his jaw tensed. Given Kavanaugh's potential influence on years of major rulings, which often hinge on a single vote, Democrats warned that his confirmation would cast a shadow over the court's legitimacy, unless they at least tried to get more clarity.
"If his nomination goes forward this morning, after testimony full of rage and partisanship and vitriol, but without even a brief pause for a nonpartisan investigation into the serious allegations presented, his service may well have an asterisk," said Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.). "Litigants coming to the court will have reason to question the fairness of the institution, and in my view that is too great a cost to impose on our system of justice in exchange for any one man."
Others signaled that the fight would not end no matter what comes.
"The sand is running through Kavanaugh's hourglass, and I pledge whatever I can do to make sure that the truth of his conduct is ultimately determined," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.).
Some Democrats pointed to the positives in Ford's testimony: She seemed to have emboldened women to come forward. Coons said five friends or acquaintances had contacted him since the hearing began to tell them about their stories of sexual assault. Calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline increased by an estimated 147 percent Thursday, the day Ford testified.
As the Judiciary Committee steamrolled toward what would likely be another divisive vote, Flake, who after the confrontation in the elevators looked haunted throughout Friday's proceedings, stepped into a side room with Coons and a few other Democrats. There, the group worked out the agreement to bring in the FBI and delay a final confirmation vote.
Coons, who speaks often about the importance of the Senate as an institution, said the deal was an attempt to show the public "that we are able to work together on some things."
A handful of lawmakers remained undecided on the Kavanaugh nomination, leaving his fate in the balance. As the sun began setting, Senate Republicans began the next procedural steps to confirm Kavanaugh. Graham doubted that the FBI investigation would change much.