Two key U.S. senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said Friday that they would vote to confirm the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a speech to the Senate, Collins, a Republican, cited the lack of evidence for the sexual assault claims made against Kavanaugh. She added that her decision should not be understood as a denial of the importance of sexual assault claims.
“Every person man or woman who makes a charge of sexual assault deserves to be heard and treated with respect,” she said.
Democrat Manchin said in a tweet minutes later he would vote yes based on the information available to him, including a recently completed FBI report.
The two votes made Kavanaugh’s confirmation extremely likely; the vote would be 51-49. Even if there were a tie, Vice President Mike Pence could cast the tiebreaking vote to confirm the nomination.
Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual misconduct by a woman who says he assaulted her at a home in suburban Washington when they were teenagers in the 1980s.
He denies the accusation made by professor Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee more than a week ago.
Friday’s procedural vote on the nomination allowed for up to 30 hours of Senate debate ahead of the final vote. The 51-49 decision was largely along party lines, with Manchin the only Democrat to vote in favor of advancing the nomination and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska being the sole Republican to vote against doing so.
Murkowski later told reporters she had not decided whether she would vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation but suggested she might not.
“This has truly been the most difficult … decision that I’ve ever had to make,” she said. “I believe he’s a good man. It just may be that in my view, he’s not the best man for the court at this time.”
Manchin, who is running for re-election in West Virginia where Trump easily won in 2016, had said the FBI’s supplemental report would help determine how he would cast his final vote.
Senators have been confronted by protesters who oppose the Kavanaugh nomination and police at the U.S. Capitol have arrested hundreds of demonstrators.
President Trump praised the Republican-led Senate Friday, tweeting he was “very proud” it managed to advance the nomination.
Throughout the week, Democrats 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.
Friday’s procedural vote came one day after Senate Republicans voiced their impatience to confirm Kavanaugh, asserting that an FBI report did not corroborate allegations the judge committed sexual assault.
A week ago, the Judiciary Committee sent Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate on the condition that the FBI perform a supplemental background check on him.
Senators were duty-bound not to divulge details of the report, which was made available behind closed doors in a secure room of the Capitol; however, 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.” He told fellow lawmakers on the Senate floor Friday, “It would be a travesty … if the Senate did not confirm the most qualified nomination in our nation’s history.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday on the Senate floor, “I do not see how it’s possible for my colleagues to say with perfect confidence that Judge Kavanaugh has the temperament, independence and credibility to serve on the United States Supreme Court.”
Dianne Feinstein of California, the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, told colleagues Friday she had attended nine Supreme Court nomination hearings during more than 25 years in the Senate, but never one like Kavanaugh’s.
“Never before have we had a Supreme Court nominee where over 90 percent of his record has been hidden from the public and the Senate. Never before have we had a nominee display such flagrant partisanship and open hostility at a hearing. And never before have we had a nominee facing allegations of sexual assault.”
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 said they were not able to secure an FBI interview.
Feinstein Thursday said, “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.
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 5-4 conservative majority.
VOA’s Fern Robinson and Kenneth Schwartz contributed to this report.