WASHINGTON (BP) — The Senate narrowly moved Friday (Oct. 5) toward a final vote on Brett Kavanaugh with his confirmation to the Supreme Court seemingly assured after a commitment later in the day from Republican Sen. Susan Collins to support the nominee.
Senators voted 51-49 to invoke cloture on President Trump’s nominee, who has been the focus in recent weeks of sexual assault allegations dating to his high school years. The vote total reflected the political party division in the Republican-majority chamber, but one maverick in each caucus joined the other party in the roll call.
Democratic Sen. Joe Machin of West Virginia voted with the GOP, while Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined the other party in opposing cloture, a procedural move to end debate and move toward a confirmation vote.
About five hours after the cloture vote, Maine’s Collins — who supports abortion rights — announced in a floor speech she would vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Collins had voted for cloture but it had been unclear if she would also cast her vote for confirmation.
The Senate could hold its vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation as early as Saturday afternoon, which will be the required 30 hours after cloture is invoked. If no senator changes his or her vote, Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the high court, which began its new term Oct. 1. If only one senator who voted for cloture switches to oppose confirmation, Vice President Mike Pence could break a 50-50 tie as the presiding officer and make Kavanaugh the second Trump nominee to join the Supreme Court.
The cloture vote came a day after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) delivered a report on its latest scrutiny of Kavanaugh. The FBI’s investigation — its seventh for Kavanaugh’s service in the executive and judicial branches of the federal government — followed Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s Sept. 28 request for such a review and a one-week delay in the confirmation vote to gain his support in voting the nominee out of the Judiciary Committee. The panel voted 11-10 along party lines to forward Kavanaugh to the full Senate.
The FBI report was made available in a secure room for all senators to review. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Thursday (Oct. 4) on the Senate floor, “None of the allegations have been corroborated by the seventh FBI investigation. Not in the new FBI investigation, not anywhere.”
Some Senate Democrats, meanwhile, criticized the FBI report as incomplete.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a Southern Baptist, explained Oct. 4 to the Senate why he had decided to vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Lankford served as director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center for 13 years.
“I grieve for the people that have experienced sexual assault in their life,” Lankford said. “I spent 22 years working with students in youth ministry, and I met lots of families who have had lots of pain in their life. People need to believe, and things need to be taken seriously. But when the facts all come out, we also have to make decisions based on the facts, not on the accusations. This is a case [in which] we have to be able to deal with the facts.”
Lankford said he will vote to confirm Kavanaugh based on the federal appeals court judge’s record over decades, on seven FBI background checks, on “sixty-five ladies that have come forward that knew him from high school and college that said this is the Brett Kavanaugh that we knew, and it doesn’t seem anything like all these accusations.”
Kavanaugh, 53, appeared headed toward confirmation by the Senate to the high court until an allegation from Christine Blasey Ford surfaced and she went public with her story in a Sept. 16 account in The Washington Post. Two other women later made differing accusations against the nominee.
In a Sept. 27 hearing at which Kavanaugh later testified, Ford said Kavanaugh restrained her on a bed, groped her over her clothes, tried to remove her clothing and a swimsuit underneath them, and clamped his hand over her mouth when she screamed. The events took place at a house in a Washington, D.C., suburb in the early 1980s when both were in high school, Ford told the Judiciary Committee.
Kavanaugh denied Ford’s allegation unequivocally, as well as others that were made.
Opponents of Kavanaugh — considered an originalist who interprets the Constitution based on its initial meaning — fear his confirmation would move the high court in a more conservative direction. Trump nominated him to replace Anthony Kennedy, often a swing vote between factions on the bench.
Democrat and pro-choice Republican senators are particularly concerned that Kavanaugh could be a fifth vote to reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Kavanaugh’s record as an appellate judge has received favorable reviews from nearly all pro-life and religious freedom advocates.
A judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for 12 years, Kavanaugh was approved 57-36 by the Senate in 2006 after a three-year delay following his nomination. Previously, his experience included time as a senior associate counsel and staff secretary for President George W. Bush, as well as a Supreme Court clerk for Kennedy.
The Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch — Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee — in 2017.