WASHINGTON — Republicans have the votes to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins announced Friday she will support him and Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin quickly followed suit.
A final vote is expected Saturday, ending a confirmation process that turned into a prolonged partisan and contentious fight that riveted the nation’s attention after professor Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of trying to sexually assault her when they were teenagers.
But Collins, in a widely watched speech, turned the uncertainty of Friday morning into the near-certainty of confirmation Saturday with a point-by-point rejection of opponents’ objections, including fears Kavanaugh might end abortion rights.
“We’ve heard a lot of charges and countercharges about Judge Kavanaugh, but as those who have known him best have attested, he has been an exemplary public servant, judge, teacher, coach, husband, and father,” she said. “I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”
Manchin said he would put aside his reservations about Kavanaugh over sexual misconduct allegations and the judge’s combative testimony at a hearing about them and vote for the judge because he’s qualified and will follow the Constitution and law.
Collins and Manchin were among four senators who had not declared their votes by Friday morning. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also joined them in backing Kavanaugh, while Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she would vote no.
The divided Senate is poised to approve Kavanaugh’s bid to join the high court in the up-or-down vote Saturday with a simple majority provided by Republicans and Manchin. The other 48 Democrats say they will vote no.
Murkowski, in a floor speech Friday night, said she would vote “present,” as a courtesy to Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.). By pairing his absent vote with her “present vote,” the outcome would not change and he would not have to be in Washington to vote, so Daines could be in his home state to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding instead.
A Kavanaugh confirmation would hand President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) a victory by shifting the court to the right.
But it also could boost turnout of angry Democrats and suburban women in the November midterm elections.
Setting the stage for Collins’ dramatic speech was a procedural vote whose outcome also appeared uncertain at the start of the day. But the motion passed narrowly 51-49, with Manchin voting yes, Murkowski voting no and the rest splitting along party lines.
Murkowski told reporters she made up her mind to vote no on her way to the Senate floor. “I believe that Brett Kavanaugh is a good man. I believe that he is a good man, it just may be that in my view he’s not the right man for the court at this time,” Murkowski said.
“I have been wrestling with whether or not this was about the qualifications of a good man or is this bigger than the nominee,” she said. “And I believe we are dealing with issues right now that are bigger than a nominee.”
The confirmation vote Saturday will take place amid political recriminations and soul-searching. Republicans and Democrats have blamed each other for the contentious and circuslike atmosphere that has spawned harsh exchanges and spurred massive protests.
Before the procedural vote Friday, McConnell ripped Democrats for “the disgraceful — absolutely disgraceful — spectacle of recent weeks” caused by their use of “delaying tactics, obstruction, and the so-called ‘resistance’ until the final vote was called.”
He and other Republicans harshly criticized the emergence of uncorroborated sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) fired back at Republicans, calling their handling of the nomination “one of the saddest, most sordid chapters in the long history of the federal judiciary.” Republicans showed their willingness “to discard all semblance of fairness,” Schumer said.
But later Friday, Collins made a plea: “Despite the turbulent, bitter fight surrounding his nomination, my fervent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court so that we have far fewer 5-4 decisions and so that public confidence in our judiciary and our highest court is restored.”