Cindy Hyde-Smith

United States Senator for Mississippi

Brett Kavanaugh moves towards Supreme Court confirmation after Susan Collins, Joe Manchin pledge support

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USA Today
 
Brett Kavanaugh moves towards Supreme Court confirmation after Susan Collins, Joe Manchin pledge support
 
By Eliza Collins, David Jackson, Deborah Berry, Maureen Groppe
 
WASHINGTON – Republicans appeared to have enough votes to narrowly confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after Sen. Susan Collins said Friday the nominee deserves a presumption of innocence against sexual allegation charges.
 
“It is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy," the Maine Republican said on the Senate floor in announcing she will back the nomination. “I do not believe that these charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the court.”
 
After speaking for more than 40 minutes, she concluded: "I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh."
 
Minutes later, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin – the only Democrat to vote with Republicans to end debate hours earlier – announced that he will also vote for confirmation in Saturday's expected vote.
 
Manchin and Collins were among a handful of publicly undecided senators in the spotlight Friday as the White House and Republican leaders tried to round up enough support for Kavanaugh after a rocky few weeks of explosive allegations, dramatic hearings, public protests and impassioned defenses.
 
Collins sided with Republicans in the 51-49 vote to end debate. But she waited for hours to announce whether she would also vote to confirm Kavanaugh.
 
As Collins rose to speak, backed by Republican women sitting behind her, protesters started chanting.
 
“Vote no! Show up for Maine women!” they shouted before being escorted out.
 
Retiring Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, the other senator who had been wavering this week, said before Collins' speech that he will vote to confirm Kavanaugh unless something significant changes.
 
Manchin, who is up for re-election in a state President Donald Trump carried by 42 points, announced his final decision in a statement in which he said his heart goes out to any sexual assault victim.
 
“I have reservations about this vote given the serious accusations against Judge Kavanaugh and the temperament he displayed in the hearing," Manchin said. "However, based on all of the information I have available to me, including the recently completed FBI report, I have found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist who will follow the Constitution and determine cases based on the legal findings before him."
 
Even if Manchin had opposed Kavanaugh, the Senate would split 50-50 and Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote. The Senate is split with 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats. 
 
Pence is expected to preside over the final vote.
 
"Very proud of the U.S. Senate for voting “YES” to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh!" Trump tweeted.
 
The final vote is not just the chance for Republicans to shift the court to the right for what could be decades, but is also a test of how public officials respond to the raw emotions unleashed by the allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh as part of the #MeToo movement.
 
A main reason Republicans voted for Trump – to put conservatives on the court – is also at stake, as is control of Congress in the midterm elections.
 
White House officials were working the phones, but wouldn't say whether Trump himself had spoken to individual senators.
 
"We continue to stay in regular contact," spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said before Collins' remarks. "The president supports his nominee, and wants him to be confirmed."
 
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the only Republican to vote against advancing the nomination, called it one of the most difficult decisions of her career. 
 
"I believe that Brett Kavanaugh is a good man, I believe he is a good man," Murkowski said after the vote. "But it just may be that, in my view, he’s not the right man for the court at this time.”
 
Murkowski, in a nearly 30-minute speech on the Senate floor Friday night, said much of her decision revolved around Kavanaugh's comments and demeanor during a hearing last week where he repeatedly called out Democrats. She said no matter the situation, judges "should act in all times in a manner that promotes public confidence."
 
"It is so critical that we have that in at least in one of our three branches of government," she said.
 
Since her vote against Kavanaugh currently wouldn't keep him from obtaining a seat on the high court, she said she would vote "present" as a collegial gesture for her Republican colleague Sen. Steve Daines, who supports Kavanaugh but is attending his daughter's wedding Saturday. The gesture won't affect the final vote. 
 
"I have a very high standard. I have a very high bar for any nominee," she said in her speech. 
 
Murkowski was noticeably absent from the floor when Collins spoke.
 
But behind Collins sat three other female Republican senators – Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, and West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito.
 
“We went to support her,” Ernst said afterward. "She did a wonderful job. I’m very proud of the diligence she put into it.”
 
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. – who had lunched with Collins before her speech – and GOP Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, turned their chairs entirely around to watch Collins.
 
As the speech went on and it became clear she was going to vote in favor of Kavanaugh, Democrats began to slump in their chairs and a handful of people watching from the balconies above walked out.
 
At the conclusion of her remarks Republicans gave her a standing ovation as Collins mouthed “thank you” repeatedly. Then Republicans, one by one, shook her hand or hugged her. No Democrats approached.
 
Manchin, the only Democrat whose position was in question Friday, had headed before the vote to the secure basement room inside the Capitol complex to continuing reviewing the 46-page FBI report on Kavanaugh and the charges of sexual assault made by Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez.
 
Reporters pounced, asking Manchin if he'd made up his mind. He said he hadn't. He kept walking.
 
Collins and Flake had seemed satisfied Thursday with the report.
 
Murkowski later told reporters she made up her mind as she walked into the chamber Friday morning. 
 
“This has truly been the most difficult evaluation of a decision that I’ve ever had to make and I’ve made some interesting ones in my political career," she said afterward.
 
She had sat stone-faced after casting her vote, her hands clasped across her lap and staring straight ahead as her colleagues voted for and against ending debate.
 
At one point, Collins leaned in, and the two of them chatted. Collins put her right hand on Murkowski’s armrest. 
 
After the vote, lawmakers gathered around Murkowski on the Senate floor and huddled for a heated conversation.
 
“People just wanted to let them know that we appreciated her and there’s gonna be another vote coming soon and we’re going to need her,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the head of the GOP conference, said about other issues the Senate will deal with.
 
An opinion piece Kavanaugh wrote Thursday in The Wall Street Journal was meant to reassure senators who had expressed concern about his temperament after his angry testimony last week, two officials familiar with the process said.
 
But the American Bar Association announced Friday it's reopening its evaluation of Kavanaugh because of "new information of a material nature regarding temperament." The review will not be done before the final vote. Republicans – including Collins in her speech Friday – have touted the ABA's previous "well qualified" rating of Kavanaugh as the "gold standard."
 
Kavanaugh's confirmation has intensified the polarization between parties as both Republicans and Democrats hurled insults and salacious claims over the weeks to keep public opinion on their side.
 
Kavanaugh’s nomination, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said before the vote, “will go down as one of the saddest, most sordid chapters in the long history of the federal judiciary.”
 
McConnell urged his colleagues to send a message to the American people that some core principles remain unfettered by partisan passions of this moment.
 
"Facts matter. Fairness matters. Presumption of innocence (matters)," McConnell said.
 
Anti-Kavanuagh protesters yelled at senators as they returned to their Senate offices after the vote. They thanked senators who voted no, but verbally railed against those who voted yes.
 
"Turn around and speak to us. We’re here. We’re your constituents. We’re your mothers, your daughters, your aunties," one yelled at Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., as he waited to get on the elevator. Capitol Police officers blocked protesters from getting close to him.
 
The vote on Kavanaugh, who denies accusations of sexual assault, has been seen as a test for the #MeToo movement, and its results could reverberate into next month's midterm elections. In the end, though, Kavanaugh's appointment would tilt the balance of power on the high court to conservatives for years to come. 
 
Both parties think the fight will motivate their voters to get to the polls Nov. 6. Democrats are seen as having a good shot of capturing the House, fueled in part by anger among female voters. But Senate Democrats are defending multiple seats in states Trump easily carried, making the Kavanaugh vote a potential liability. 
 
Each vote in the razor-thin Republican majority will carry more weight than usual as Kavanaugh's appointment will hold for life. 
 
Kavanaugh’s nomination always was destined to become a partisan battleground because of the justice he was picked to replace: Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s swing vote, who had sided with his liberal colleagues on issues such as abortion, affirmative action and gay rights. Kennedy, 81, retired after three decades in the middle of the court’s ideological battles.
 
 

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