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Brett Kavanaugh nomination faces key vote Friday

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), walks on Capitol Hill

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), walks on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh faces a crucial procedural test vote Friday morning that could pave the way for his confirmation this weekend but hangs mostly on the final decisions of three wavering Republicans.

Senators will vote at 10:30 a.m., a day after briefings on a quick FBI probe into sexual misconduct accusations against Kavanaugh that Republican leaders say cleared him after finding no corroboration.

Democrats called the report a cover-up because agents didn’t talk to many witnesses.

The Senate will act under tight security after anti-Kavanaugh protesters have confronted lawmakers, crowded into their offices and held massive rallies, including one Thursday in a Senate office building that led to several arrests.

Kavanaugh supporters also have shown up.

Still, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared increasingly confident Thursday, as partisan lines hardened and at least one undecided Republican signaled a yes vote. Just one Democrat senator remained undecided and the rest have said they’ll vote no.

Key to the Friday vote will be Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who are undecided and demanded the weeklong pause in McConnell’s drive to confirm Kavanaugh to allow for an independent FBI probe into the allegations.

Further complicating things, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said Thursday he will be in Montana to attend the wedding of his daughter on Saturday – even if McConnell schedules the final up and down vote that day.

Kavanaugh’s nomination can lose support of one the four undecided senators if all the other Democrats oppose because the GOP has a narrow 51-member majority with Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote.

After a briefing on the report, Flake and Collins did not say how they would vote but expressed satisfaction with the FBI’s investigation. Murkowski did not comment.

A week ago, Flake said he believed “our system of justice affords presumption of innocence, absent corroborating evidence.” On Thursday, he called the FBI probe “thorough” and said, “We’ve seen no additional corroborating information” in it for the allegations.

Collins said, “It appears to be a very thorough investigation, but I am going back later today to personally read the interviews.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who voted for Justice Neil Gorsuch and is up for re-election in a deeply Republican state, became the last undecided Democrat after Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who also voted for Gorsuch and faces a tough race, said she would vote no.

The undecided senators returned to read interview transcripts after most senators from both parties filed into a secure room to learn the results of the investigation Friday morning.

“I’m not going to draw conclusions before I’m finished reading,” Collins said.

A week ago, the FBI reopened its background investigation of Kavanaugh after allegations by Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in their high school years and by Deborah Ramirez that he exposed himself to her at a Yale dorm party. Kavanaugh denied the claims.

After reaching out to 10 witnesses and interviewing nine of them, the FBI delivered its confidential report late Wednesday to the White House, which sent it to the Senate.

Republicans and Democrats traded barbs and argued about the White House and Senate handling of the FBI probe amid rancor about fears the #MeToo movement has gone too far.

“This is a very important time in our country. Due Process, Fairness and Common Sense are now on trial!” tweeted Trump, who has faced accusations from many women himself.

“The fact is that these allegations have not been corroborated,” McConnell said. “Not in the new FBI investigation. Not anywhere.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, “This investigation found no hint of misconduct.”

But Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s top Democrat, complained that the FBI did not talk to Kavanaugh, Ford or many others who might help corroborate the claims.

“Democrats agreed that the investigation’s scope should be limited,” she said. “We did not agree that the White House should tie the FBI’s hands.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, “We allowed the FBI to do exactly what they do best,” adding, “We haven’t micromanaged this process.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats’ fears that the limited scope of the probe would “constrain the FBI from finding the facts” were confirmed.

“I disagree with Sen. Grassley’s statement that there was no hint of misconduct,” Schumer said.

With Candice Ferrette

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