WASHINGTON — Sen. Susan Collins said Friday she will support Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, likely securing his confirmation in a vote Saturday.
The Maine Republican was one of only two undecided senators after a procedural vote narrowly advanced the nomination Friday morning.
The other, Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said shortly after Collins’ announcement that he, too, would support Kavanaugh.
Collins’ announcement followed a hotly contested procedural vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination earlier in the day. The tally was 51-49.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voted against moving forward and said she will not support Kavanaugh in the final vote. She is the first Republican to break with the party, joining most Democrats in opposing Kavanaugh.
“I believe Brett Kavanaugh is a good man,” Murkowski told reporters. “It just may be, in my view, he’s not the right man for the court at this time.”
Murkowski’s voice was barely audible when she cast her vote. Senators sat at their desks and took turns standing to vote when their names were called by a clerk, a practice typically reserved for high-profile or particularly meaningful decisions.
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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., voted yes on Friday morning and told reporters he would also vote for Kavanaugh over the weekend “unless something big changes.”
Republicans were expressing confidence on Friday morning that they would be able to confirm Kavanaugh, who supporters hope will push the nation’s highest court in a more conservative direction.
“I’m confident, hopeful, optimistic but around here ... it’s not for sure until it’s counted,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
The timing of the final vote — expected to begin Saturday afternoon — is up in the air. A hitch arose Thursday when Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who supports Kavanaugh, said he would not be in D.C. on Saturday because his daughter is getting married in his home state.
If the count on Kavanaugh ends up being tight, that would force GOP leaders to keep the voting open for longer than expected, perhaps until late Saturday night or Sunday.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation process was scrambled by allegations of sexual misconduct and assault that emerged in recent weeks. Christine Blasey Ford, a Palo Alto University professor, said he tried to rape her in high school, and Deborah Ramirez said he exposed himself to her when they were college classmates.
The White House ordered a supplemental FBI background check after a handful of Republicans threatened to withhold their support from Kavanaugh, and senators began reviewing the confidential report on Thursday.
Collins, in announcing her vote Friday afternoon in a 40-minute speech, said Kavanaugh should be given the benefit of any doubt. “I do not believe these charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the court,” she said. Though Collins had signaled that she struggled with her decision, her comments largely echoed GOP leaders’ complaints that Democrats had worked unfairly to sabotage the nomination and praising Kavanaugh’s record.
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On Friday morning, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, repeated his contention that the investigation did not find any evidence for the allegations. He said Democrats’ treatment of Kavanaugh has been “nothing short of monstrous.”
“Before left-wing outside groups and Democratic leaders had him in their sights, Judge Kavanaugh possessed an impeccable reputation and was held in high esteem by the bench and the bar alike,” Grassley said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, said she was disturbed by the allegations and Kavanaugh’s subsequent appearance during an emotionally charged hearing last week. Kavanaugh, who currently sits on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and previously worked for the independent counsel’s office during the investigation of President Bill Clinton, described opposition to his nomination as “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.”
“We saw a man filled with anger and aggression,” Feinstein said. She added, “This behavior revealed a hostility and a belligerence that is unbecoming of someone seeking to be elevated to the United States Supreme Court.”
In an essay published Thursday by The Wall Street Journal, Kavanaugh said he regretted parts of his opening statement and testimony, saying they reflected his frustration.
Trump used the fight over Kavanaugh’s nomination to rile up his supporters at a rally in Rochester, Minn., on Thursday night, drawing chants of “we want Kavanaugh” from the crowd.
“All you have to do is look at the polls over the last three or four days and it shows that their rage-fueled resistance is starting to backfire at a level that no one has ever seen before,” he said.
Although some polls have shown increasing Republican enthusiasm ahead of the November midterm elections that will determine control of Congress, Kavanaugh’s support among voters as a whole is historically low.