The Senate narrowly voted Friday to limit debate on the nomination of President Donald Trump’s embattled Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, advancing his nomination to a final confirmation vote that could come as early as Saturday.
The procedural vote, an institutional matter unrelated to how Senators will eventually vote on Kavanaugh, allows for up to 30 hours of Senate debate before holding a final vote. The 51-to-49 vote was largely along party lines, with Joe Manchin the only Democrat to vote in favor of advancing the nomination and Republican Lisa Murkowski voting “no.”
The vote came one day after Senate Republicans asserted that an FBI report did not corroborate allegations the judge committed sexual assault.
Last week, Christine Blasey Ford told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school party in the early 1980s. Kavanaugh vehemently denied the charge.
The Judiciary Committee then sent the nomination to the full Senate on the condition that the FBI perform a supplemental background check on the nominee.
President Trump praised the Republican-led Senate, tweeting he was “Very proud” it managed to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Democrats, meanwhile, solidified their caucus’s opposition to Kavanaugh, an appellate judge whose elevation to the Supreme Court could cement a decidedly conservative majority for decades.
North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp announced she would vote against Kavanaugh. She questioned the nominee’s “temperament, honesty and impartiality,” and said, “Our actions right now are a poignant signal to young girls and women across our country. I will continue to stand up for them.”
Heitkamp currently trails in polls as she runs for re-election in North Dakota, a state Trump won handily in 2016. Her announcement left only one Democrat undecided: West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.
Two of three Republicans who have not committed to vote to confirm Kavanaugh spoke with reporters after reviewing the FBI report.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins called the document “thorough,” while Arizona’s Jeff Flake said, “We’ve seen no additional corroborating information.” Collins said she would announce her decision on Kavanaugh’s final confirmation vote later Friday.
Senators were duty-bound not to divulge details of the FBI report, which was made available for them to read behind closed doors in a secure room of the Capitol. But numerous Republicans emerged to tell reporters they saw nothing implicating Kavanaugh in sexual misconduct.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the FBI was unable to locate “any third parties who could attest to any of these allegations — no backup from any witnesses, including those specifically named as eyewitnesses by the people who brought the allegations in the first place.”
But Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer cryptically said he disagrees with Republican statements that the report showed “no hint of misconduct” by Kavanaugh — prompting reporters to ask Schumer what he meant before he walked away without another word.
Democrats argued the FBI report had been hampered by limitations placed on investigators by the White House in conjunction with Judiciary Committee Republicans. News reports say neither Ford nor Kavanaugh was interviewed, and several people who claimed to have known the nominee as a student complained they were unable to secure an FBI interview.
“The most notable part of this report is what’s not in it,” said the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California. “It looks to be a product of an incomplete investigation.”
Feinstein added, “Democrats agreed that the investigation’s scope should be limited. We did not agree that the White House should tie the FBI’s hands.”
White House spokesman Raj Shah said that after the “most comprehensive review of a Supreme Court nominee in history,” the White House is “fully confident” Kavanaugh will be confirmed.
Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate. With Vice President Mike Pence being the tie-breaker if necessary, they would need a minimum of 50 votes to confirm Kavanaugh.
If confirmed, Kavanaugh would replace retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. The nine-member court is currently operating with eight justices.
A Kavanaugh confirmation would tip the balance on the Supreme Court to a 5-to-4 conservative majority.