Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said Friday she will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, all but ensuring that a deeply riven Senate will elevate the conservative jurist to the nation's highest court despite allegations that he sexually assaulted women decades ago.
The dramatic Senate floor announcement by perhaps the chamber's most moderate Republican ended most of the suspense over a tortuous, election-season battle that had left Kavanaugh's fate in doubt for nearly a month after the first accusation against him. It all but assured a victory for President Donald Trump's quest to move the Supreme Court rightward, perhaps for decades, and a satisfying win for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the GOP's conservative base.
The Senate's showdown roll call confirmation vote is expected Saturday afternoon.
With Republicans controlling the chamber by a narrow 51-49, Collins' "yes" vote essentially assured a minimum of 50 votes for Kavanaugh. Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a fellow moderate and friend of Collins, has indicated that she will vote no, calling Kavanaugh "a good man" but maybe "not the right man for the court at this time."
Vice President Mike Pence planned to be available Saturday in case his tie-breaking vote was needed.
Kavanaugh's path to the court seemed unfettered until mid-September, when Christine Blasey Ford accused him of drunkenly sexually assaulting her in a locked bedroom at a 1982 high school gathering. Two other women later emerged with sexual misconduct allegations from the 1980s, all of which Kavanaugh has denied.
By Friday afternoon, the sole remaining undeclared senator was Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat. Manchin, who faces a competitive re-election next month in a state Trump overwhelmingly carried in 2016, voted to advance Kavanaugh's nomination in a key procedural vote earlier Friday.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who's repeatedly battled Trump and will retire in January, said he'd vote for Kavanaugh's confirmation "unless something big changes."
In the procedural ballot, senators voted 51-49 to limit debate, defeating Democratic efforts to scuttle the nomination with endless delays. That was the day's first GOP victory in the spellbinding battle that's been fought against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement and stalwart conservative support for Trump.
Deeply coloring the day's events was a burning resentment by partisans on both sides, on and off the Senate floor.
Collins decried the contentious confirmation process for Kavanaugh, saying, "we have come to the conclusion of a confirmation process that has become so dysfunctional it looks more like a caricature of a gutter-level political campaign than a solemn occasion."
She and Manchin were the key votes to pass or reject Kavanaugh's nomination after the Senate narrowly voted to move forward with it earlier on Friday.
After her speech, Manchin announced he would vote for confirmation.
Manchin said he had reservations about Kavanaugh because of the sexual misconduct allegations against him 'and the temperament he displayed in the hearing.'
But he said he believes Kavanaugh will 'determine cases based on the legal findings before him.' Manchin added, 'I do hope that Judge Kavanaugh will not allow the partisan nature this process took to follow him onto the court.'
In her speech, she sought to refute concerns that Kavanaugh would threaten women's rights and LGBT rights, and that he favored a broad scope of presidential powers.
When it comes to the Supreme Court's abortion decision, Roe vs. Wade, Collins said Kavanaugh "is the first Supreme Court nominee to express the view that precedent is not merely a practice and tradition, but rooted in Article III of our Constitution itself." The exception, she said, is when a decision is egregiously wrong.
"By any objective measure, Judge Kavanaugh is clearly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court," she said, while also suggesting that he was more of a centrist than critics maintain.
She criticized what she said was a flood of special interest groups that have lobbied her and other senators to vote against the nomination, saying they "whip their followers into a frenzy." That was apparent just moments before she spoke, when demonstrators in the Senate gallery shouted at her to vote no.
Collins said when it came to Christine Blasey Ford's allegations against Kavanaugh, the "presumption of innocence" weighed on her decision. Ford claimed that he sexually assaulted her when they were in high school at a party, a claim he vigorously denies.
"I found her testimony to be sincere, painful, and compelling. I believe that she is a survivor of sexual assault and this trauma has upended her life," she said. But she added that none of the four witnesses she named could corroborate her claims.
She said "fairness would dictate that the claims should at least meet a threshold of more likely than not," but the allegations "fail to meet the more likely than not standard."
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