Republicans in the US Senate, with the help of a lone Democrat, have voted to advance Brett Kavanaugh to a final floor vote, propelling the embattled federal judge one step closer to the supreme court, The Guardian reports.
Faced with multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and concerns over his impartiality, Kavanaugh cleared a key procedural hurdle on Friday in a narrow 51-49 vote that fell sharply along party lines.
The outcome paved the way for a final vote as early as Saturday, which was poised to confirm Donald Trump’s pick for America’s highest court after a handful of key senators said they would back Kavanaugh on the Senate floor.
Two of the chamber’s closely watched moderate Republican senators, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine, voted to advance Kavanaugh, while Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted against the judge. Joe Manchin, a senator up for re-election in conservative West Virginia, was the lone Democrat to break with his party.
Murkowski told reporters the vote on Kavanaugh was among “the most difficult evaluation[s]” of her career.
“I believe he is a good man,” she told reporters, while adding: “He’s not the right man for the court at this time.”
Flake, who last week called for the additional FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh, said he would vote to confirm the judge. Kavanaugh denies the allegations.
“I do not believe that these charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the court,” Collins said.
“Certain fundamental legal principles about due process – the presumption of innocence and fairness – do bear on my thinking, and I cannot abandon them.”
Kavanaugh was nominated by Trump in July to replace the retiring justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who often acted as a swing vote on issues ranging from LGBT rights to abortion. If confirmed to the lifetime post, Kavanaugh would shift the court in a staunchly conservative direction for decades to come.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said in remarks on the floor ahead of Friday’s vote: “When future Americans look back at these proceedings, let them draw no lessons from the Senate’s conduct here.
“Let them look back on this chapter as the shameful culmination of the scorched-earth politics practiced by the hard right in America – people who will stop at nothing to entrench an advantage on our nation’s courts.”
The Republican majority leader, Mitch McConnell, dismissed the controversy over Kavanaugh’s nomination as part of an orchestrated campaign by Democrats and liberal activists.
“Before the ink had dried on Justice Kennedy’s retirement, our Democratic colleagues made it perfectly clear what this process would be about: delay, obstruct and resist,” McConnell said.
“And before the ink had dried on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, colleagues across the aisle – including Democrat members of the judiciary committee – were racing to announce they’d made up their minds and were totally opposed to his confirmation.”
Thousands of protesters, many of them survivors of sexual assault, flocked to the nation’s capital in recent days with a final appeal to lawmakers to reject Kavanaugh. More than 300 were arrested on Thursday after overtaking one of the buildings that houses the offices of several US senators. On Friday, capitol police arrested more than 100 people, many for “crowding” and “obstructing” in senate offices.
Trump denounced the protesters in a Friday morning tweet claiming, without evidence, that they had been hired by liberal organizers.
“The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it!” the president wrote.
Trump and Republicans have stood squarely behind Kavanaugh and insisted an FBI investigation into the allegations against him cleared the judge of any wrongdoing. Democrats, meanwhile, condemned the investigation, the results of which were made available to senators on Thursday, as preordained and dictated by the White House.
Investigators did not interview Kavanaugh or Dr Christine Blasey Ford, the research psychologist who alleged he attempted to rape her when the two were teenagers in the early 1980s. Ford’s legal team complained that several witnesses who could help corroborate her account were not contacted. Deborah Ramirez, a second accuser who said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while the two attended Yale, voiced similar frustration.
A single physical copy of the confidential FBI report was made available for all 100 members of the Senate to review and kept in a secure room typically used for information sharing in classified settings. The 46-page report included summaries of the FBI’s interviews with nine witnesses.
Late Friday night, Ford’s attorneys released a statement saying the FBI inquiry was “not a meaningful investigation in any sense of the word”, since it excluded interviews with Ford and Kavanaugh.
Had the FBI interviewed Ford, she would have “provided corroborating evidence, including her medical records” and access to her phone, the lawyers said. There were also seven people Ford told about the assault prior to the nomination who could have testified, the statement said, adding: “Senators claiming to want a dignified debate should not repeat lies constructed by the Judiciary Committee.”
On the eve of Friday’s vote, the retired supreme court justice John Paul Stevens said Kavanaugh’s strikingly partisan tone while denying the allegations against him before the Senate judiciary committee last week should disqualify him.
“His performance in the hearings changed my mind,” said Stevens, a lifelong Republican. “The senators should pay attention to this.”
More than 2,400 law professors from across the country also signed a letter urging the Senate not to confirm Kavanaugh, citing his “aggressive” demeanor in the hearing.
The American Bar Association said it was re-opening its evaluation of the judge based on his performance at last week’s hearing. It had previously rated him “well-qualified”.
Kavanaugh sought to quell concerns over his judicial restraint in an op-ed published late on Thursday in the conservative editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. The judge said his angry testimony “reflected my overwhelming frustration at being wrongly accused”.
“I was very emotional last Thursday, more so than I have ever been. I might have been too emotional at times,” Kavanaugh wrote. “I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said.”
Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, reiterated Trump’s support for Kavanaugh on Friday.
Asked if the White House was concerned about moderate senators changing their minds before the final vote, Sanders said: “Honestly, I think a lot of Democrats should change their mind and do the right thing and [confirm] Judge Kavanaugh.”