A deeply divided Senate pushed Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination past a key procedural hurdle Friday, setting up a likely final showdown this weekend in a battle that's seen claims of long-ago sexual assault by the nominee threaten President Donald Trump's effort to tip the court rightward for decades.
The Senate voted 51-49 to limit debate, effectively defeating Democratic efforts to scuttle the nomination with endless delays. With Republicans clinging to a two-vote majority, one Republican voted to stop the nomination and one Democrat to send it further.
Indiana’s senators were split on the vote—Democrat Joe Donnelly voted against moving the nomination forward, while Republican Todd Young supported the move.
Of the four lawmakers who had not revealed their decisions until Friday, Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona voted yes, as did Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted not to send the nomination to the full Senate.
But the way a senator voted on Friday does not bind them to voting a certain way on the actual confirmation vote, which is expected to happen Saturday. If there's a tie in the confirmation vote, Vice President Mike Pence, who supports Kavanaugh, would be on standby to deliver a tie-breaking vote.
Collins told reporters that she wouldn't rule out voting differently on the confirmation, making it unclear whether Friday's tally signaled that the 53-year-old federal appellate judge was on his way to the nation's highest court. Confirmation would be a crowning achievement for Trump, his conservative base and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The vote occurred a day after the Senate received a roughly 50-page FBI report on the sexual assault allegations, which Trump ordered only after wavering GOP senators forced him to do so. Republicans said the secret document — which described interviews agents conducted with 10 witnesses — failed to find anyone who could corroborate allegations by his two chief accusers, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez.
Democrats belittled the bureau's findings, saying agents constrained by the White House hadn't reached out to numerous other people with potentially important information.
The vote also occurred against a backdrop of smoldering resentment by partisans on both sides. That fury was reflected openly by thousands of boisterous anti-Kavanaugh demonstrators who bounced around the Capitol complex for days, confronting senators in office buildings and even reportedly near their homes.
On the Senate floor, lawmakers' comments underscored the lingering bitterness.
"What left wing groups and their Democratic allies have done to Judge Kavanaugh is nothing short of monstrous," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said on the chamber's floor before the vote. He accused Democrats of using destructive, unwarranted personal attacks on the nominee and even encouraging the protesters, saying, "They have encouraged mob rule."
Dianne Feinstein of California, that committee's top Democrat, said Kavanaugh's testimony at last week's dramatic Judiciary panel hearing should "worry us all," citing "a hostility and belligerence that is unbecoming" of a Supreme Court nominee.
Young said in a call with reporters before the vote on Friday that he had no concerns with Kavanaugh’s temperament.
“The issue of temperament came up in the course of judge Kavanaugh defending his honor, his family’s honor,” Young said. “I think that that conviction was appropriate.”
When asked about the impact the vote could have on the midterm election, specifically for Donnelly’s race against Republican Mike Braun, Young said he thought the vote could have political implications, but no one should base their vote on that.
“He has to make his own decision,” Young said of Donnelly. “Joe Donnelly no doubt wants me to vote against Judge Kavanaugh.”
Donnelly announced a week ago that he would oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation, citing a lack of a FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations made by Ford.
When the White House ordered the FBI to investigate the claims shortly after Donnelly’s announcement, it raised questions over whether Donnelly’s vote could be changed, but he is expected to still vote against it this weekend.
His office did not respond to IBJ’s request for comment Friday morning.