Kavanaugh Nomination Passes Procedural Test, Final Outcome Still Uncertain
The Senate voted to proceed to an expected floor vote on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court tomorrow, but the final outcome is still uncertain.
As expected, the Senate voted to advance to a final vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for a seat on the Supreme Court setting up a final floor vote on Saturday afternoon, but the final outcome of that vote remains up in the air:
Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh cleared a major hurdle Friday morning in his quest for the Supreme Court, as the Senate voted narrowly to cut off debate on his nomination and move to a final vote as early as Saturday, but one Republican senator left open the possibility that she could still vote no.
The 51-49 vote is the next-to-last step in the most tumultuous Supreme Court confirmation process in decades. Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said her vote to move the confirmation forward did not signal how she will vote in the end. Instead, she will announce her position on Judge Kavanaugh at 3 p.m. Friday. Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, also voted yes, freeing Vice President Mike Pence from a tiebreaking vote on the nomination after Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, voted no.
It was unclear whether the votes of Senators Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, and Manchin reflected their final position. Republican leaders could be seen working hard even after the procedural vote ended to reverse Senator Murkowski’s opposition.
For Judge Kavanaugh, and the country, the stakes are huge: If confirmed, President Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee will replace the high court’s swing vote, the retired Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, with a committed conservative, shifting the ideological balance on the court toward the right for generations.
Friday’s vote ushers in 30 hours of debate before the Senate takes its final vote on Judge Kavanaugh. It came as senators were still absorbing the results of a confidential F.B.I. inquiry into allegations of sexual assault against Judge Kavanaugh, allegations that have torn apart the Senate and divided the nation.
In divergent and often bitter remarks before the vote, senior senators delivered closing arguments Friday morning that demonstrated how deeply the nomination has split the Senate.
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary Committee chairman, accused Democrats of waging a scorched-earth campaign to destroy Judge Kavanaugh — “the most qualified nominee in our nation’s history” — before he could be confirmed. He said that the burden of proof for the nominee’s accusers had not been met and that ample investigation had found no evidence to corroborate their claims.
“We had a campaign of distraction from his outstanding qualifications, a campaign of destruction of this individual,” Mr. Grassley said. “What we have learned is the resistance that has existed since the day after the November 2016 election is centered right here on Capitol Hill. They have encouraged mob rule.”
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, mocked Democrats and warned that a vote against Judge Kavanaugh based on uncorroborated accusations would dangerously erode “the ideals of justice that have served our nation so well for so long.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Committee, said Judge Kavanaugh had disqualified himself many times over because of his views on presidential power, gun rights and abortion rights. She chastised Republicans for an incomplete investigation of the sexual misconduct claims against him and said Judge Kavanaugh’s emotional defense at a public hearing last week demonstrated a temperament unfit for the office.
“Based on all the factors we have before us, I do not believe Judge Kavanaugh has earned this seat,” she said.
In the end, the vote on the Motion to Proceed was 51-49, which matches the Republican majority in the Senate. However, it ended up there with Lisa Murkowski voting “no” on the motion and Joe Manchin voting “yes.” Susan Collins and Jeff Flake both voted “yes” as well, but they made it clear that this was not necessarily an indication of how they will vote on the final vote. The same is true of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. Speaking to reporters after the vote, Lisa Murkowski indicates she will vote “no” on the nomination tomorrow. Jeff Flake, on the other hand, says he will vote yes when the nomination comes up for a final cote. This leaves the fate of the nomination in the hands of Senators Collins and Manchin. In Collins’s case, she stated just prior to the vote that she will announce how she will vote tomorrow in a floor speech that is currently scheduled for later this afternoon. If she ends up joining Murkowski, who will presumably be voting “no” on the final vote as she did on the Motion to Proceed, then eyes will turn to Senator Manchin has yet to announce where he will stand when the vote is taken. If Collins votes no, then Manchin could be the “yes” vote that makes this a 50-50 matter, which means that Kavanaugh would be confirmed with Vice-President Pence’s tie-breaking vote, or he could simply vote “no” and ascribe the failure of the nomination to the fact that two Republicans ended up voting “no.” If Collins votes “yes” then Manchin’s vote will essentially be meaningless to the final outcome.
At this point, further prognostication is basically a waste of time. The fate of this nomination will more or less be decided this afternoon when Senator Collins announces her position. Given the fact that she’s already said that she was generally satisfied with the outcome of the F.B.I.’s supplemental background investigation, I expect she’ll ultimately end up voting “yes,” but we can’t know for sure until she says so. As for Manchin, he’s unlikely to want to be the deciding vote in either direction notwithstanding the fact that voters in his state overwhelmingly support the nomination. Therefore, I expect that he’ll vote the same way Collins does in the end.
Update: Senators Collins and Manchin have both announced that they will support Kavanaugh’s confirmation. This assures he will be confirmed when the final vote takes place.