After one of the most divisive Supreme Court nominations in recent history, the U.S. Senate voted 50-to-48 to confirm President Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Senate met Saturday for the afternoon vote, which followed party lines with the exception of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Democrats continued their opposition to the very end, charging Kavanaugh would push the court further right and blasting the jurist for his temperament following his passionate defense of his character against uncorroborated accusations of sexual assault.
“Big day for America!” President Trump tweeted.
Anti-Kavanaugh protesters crowded the Supreme Court steps to express their anger over the failed attempt to stop the nomination.
Chanting “Get up, get down, women we run this Town” and “We are the majority, the majority dissents,” activists carried signs saying they “believe survivors” and warning that they are voters.
Protesters who managed to secure seats in the Senate gallery were removed as they screamed out slogans during the vote.
Both Republicans and Democrats expect the Senate’s Kavanaugh decision to be a dominant theme in the midterm elections.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., credited protests in the Capitol, at lawmakers’ homes, in restaurants and at airports for bolstering GOP support for Kavanaugh.
“We’ve been wondering how we can fire up our own people, because we know the Democrats are energized going into an off-year election,” McConnell told the Los Angeles Times before the vote Saturday.
“Nothing unifies and energizes Republicans like a court fight. So the good news about it from a political point of view is it has allowed us to put what I think is our single biggest accomplishment – that is, the transformation of the court system in the course of this Congress – front and center going into the election a month from now,” he said.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who voted no on Friday, voted present. She had explained that her intent was to allow Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana to attend his daughter’s wedding, maintaining a two-vote margin.
Friday drama leading up to final vote
The final vote was forecast Friday afternoon when key swing vote Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine declared she would confirm Kavanaugh.
With protesters shouting from the gallery urging her to vote no, she strode toward the dais on the Senate floor and made an impassioned, comprehensive case for Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Immediately after Collins declared her intention to back Kavanaugh, Manchin announced he also is a yes, with the Maine senator apparently ensuring he would not be the deciding vote.
As Manchin spoke to reporters on live television, he was drowned out by protesters yelling “shame on you” and “you’ve betrayed America.”
Collins argued Democrats announced opposition even before the nominee’s identity was even known, and since then interest groups have spread “over-the-top” rhetoric and “distortions” of Kavanaugh’s record.
The moderate pro-choice Republican then made a case for the D.C. Court of Appeals judge, seeking to allay fears of critics who believe he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, before making it clear she will vote yes Saturday.
In a dramatic voice tally Friday morning, the Senate voted 51-49 to move to a final 30 hours of debate on Kavanaugh’s nomination, setting up the final vote Saturday evening.
Collins voted to advance the nomination along with Republican swing vote Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Manchin, who is defending his seat next month in a state won by President Trump in 2016.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted no.
Murkowski later told reporters she made her decision on the way to the vote Friday morning.
She said she hasn’t decided how she will vote Saturday but indicated a lack of support.
“I believe Brett Kavanaugh is a good man. It just may be, that in my view, he is not the right man for the court at this time,” Murkowski said.
Collins had lunch Friday with McConnell, who indicated afterwards he was confident he will get the votes needed to confirm Kavanaugh.
Flake said after the vote he will vote yes Saturday, “unless something big changes.”
From the Senate floor Friday, Collins said Kavanaugh must be accorded the presumption of innocence, and his overwhelming record of good character should be weighed against uncorroborated charges.
“Those who know him best say he has been an exemplary public servant, teacher, coach and father,” the senator said.
Collins said she believes accuser Christine Blasey Ford is sincere about her claims, but none of the witnesses she names confirm her story. And she noted Ford has testified that no one has contacted her to say they were at the alleged party. Further, no one has claimed to have driven her home.
The senator said that while victims of the “pervasive” and “terrible” problem of sexual assault must be heard, Ford’s charges do not meet the more-likely-than-not standard.
On the Senate floor Friday night, Murkowski said the appearance of impropriety and Kavanaugh’s temperament in defending himself influenced her decision.
“In my conscience, I could not conclude that he is the right person for the court at this time,” she said. “And this has been agonizing for me, with this decision. It is as close a call as any I can remember.”
Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana will be absent Saturday because he will be walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. He said that if his vote is needed, he could be in Washington as early as Sunday morning.
‘Facts matter, fairness matters’
Because of the precedent set by then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2013, 60 votes no longer are needed to prevent a filibuster and move to a final vote. With Reid having “triggered the nuclear option” to advance three Obama nominees to the D.C. Circuit, Senate Majority Leader McConnell last year “went nuclear” himself, changing the rules to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Without Democrat votes, Republicans, with a 51-49 majority, can lose only one vote. Vice President Mike Pence has the constitutional authority to break a 50-50 tie.
Prior to the cloture vote, McConnell pointed out that Democrats have declared from the beginning they had no intention of engaging in a fair process, reciting once again Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s statement 23 minutes after Kavanaugh was named that he would oppose the nomination with everything he had.
Along with confirming the most well-qualified Supreme Court nominee of a generation, McConnell said, the Senate has another “golden opportunity.”
“Today we can send a message to the American people that some core principles remain unfettered by the partisan passions of this moment,” he said.
“Facts matter, fairness matters. The presumption of innocence is sacrosanct.”
Describing the Democrats’ tactics as “delay, obstruct and resist,” McConnell said that when it became clear that Kavanaugh was about to be confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, amid pressure from far-left activists, the opposition dropped Ford’s uncorroborated accusation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her 36 years ago when both were in high school.
Now, the Senate leader said, Democrats insist the supplemental FBI background investigation of Ford’s claims, which delayed the vote, “is invalid because individuals who only recently had been told second hand or third hand about events nearly 40 years ago” were not interviewed.
“Never mind that they didn’t witness anything,” McConnell said.
“These are people supposedly in possession of hearsay that they heard 36 years after the fact.”
Ford’s friend claims pressure to change testimony
Significantly, the alleged witnesses Ford names as having been at the alleged party, McConnell said, have spoken to the FBI, and “what we know now is what we knew this time a week ago.”
“There is no corroborating evidence for these allegations,” he said. “If there were, you bet we would have heard about it.”
The supplemental FBI probe revealed, according to the Wall Street Journal, that one of the three named witnesses, Ford’s high school friend Leland Keyser, told the FBI she had been pressured by a retired FBI agent and friend of Ford’s, Monica McLean, to revise her initial statement that she knew nothing about the alleged assault.
DailyMail.com reported Wednesday that a family member close to Keyser said she was “completely blindsided” and left “reeling” when Ford named her as a corroborating witness. The family member said Ford “didn’t give [Keyser] so much as a heads up – as far as I know they haven’t really spoken for several years and they’re certainly not close anymore.”
McLean’s lawyer, David Laufman, issued a statement denying McLean pressured Keyser to alter her account, saying the claim “is absolutely false.”
For Democrats, McConnell said, whether or not the allegations were true, was “quite beside the point,” describing the tactics of senators and protesters, including the many who harassed Republican lawmakers in public, as “mob rule.”
“The absurdity, the indignity, this is our approach to confirming a Supreme Court justice,” he said. “This is the Senate’s contribution to public discourse.
McConnell, earlier this week, decried harassment by left-wing activists that led to Republican lawmakers requiring police escorts to move to and from their offices.
Prior to the Senate leader’s remarks Friday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said that what “left-wing groups and their Democratic allies have done to Judge Kavanaugh is nothing short of monstrous.”
“The resistance that has existed since after the 2016 election is centered right here on Capitol Hill,” he said. “They have encouraged mob rule.”
On Thursday, the characteristically mild-mannered Senate leader accused his Democratic colleagues of desperately trying to shift attention from the fact that Kavanaugh is as qualified as any nominee they’ve ever seen. Instead, he said, the opposition is engaging in the “politics of personal destruction,” fostering a “shameful spectacle which is an embarrassment” to the Senate and the nation.
“For goodness sake, this is the United States of America,” he said. “Nobody is supposed to be guilty until proven innocent in this country.”
‘Facts matter, fairness matters’
Friday morning before the vote, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Kavanaugh’s passionate rebuttal of Ford’s charges during testimony one week ago showed he is a “man filled with anger and aggression” who lacks the judicial temperament required for a Supreme Court justice.
Kavanaugh, responding to the temperament charge in an op-ed published Thursday afternoon by the Wall Street Journal, said his testimony “reflected my overwhelming frustration at being wrongly accused, without corroboration.”
“I was very emotional last Thursday, more so than I have ever been. I might have been too emotional at times,” he wrote. “I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said. I hope everyone can understand that I was there as a son, husband and dad. I testified with five people foremost in my mind: my mom, my dad, my wife, and most of all my daughters.”
Contending “a cloud hangs over this nominee,” Senate Minority Leader Schumer also insisted that along with Kavanaugh’s actions at age 17, “his actions at age 53 in terms of demeanor, partisanship and above all credibility, should be dis-positive.”
“I do not see how it’s possible for my colleagues to say with perfect confidence that Judge Kavanaugh” should be confirmed, he said.
Despite his condemnation of President Trump’s list of two dozen possible nominees as the product of a far-right group, the Heritage Foundation, Schumer said the Senate should move on to another nominee it could “consider in a much less bitter, less partisan way.”
“For the sake of the Senate, the Supreme Court and America, I hope my colleagues will do so,” he said.
Schumer characterized Kavanaugh’s 12 years on the D.C. Court of Appeals as “hard-right jurisprudence” that is “far, far from what the average American believes,” despite the unanimous “well qualified” rating by the American Bar Association.
Schumer: Ford ‘won America’s hearts’
On Thursday, Schumer insisted Ford’s uncorroborated testimony is credible, saying she “came forward and won America’s hearts.”
However, along with inconsistencies in her testimony, the FBI confirmed that three people Ford named as having been present at the home where the alleged attack took place, including a lifelong friend, declared under penalty of perjury they don’t remember any such party.
The prosecutor who questioned Ford at the hearing last Thursday, Rachel Mitchell, published a lengthy report this week detailing many holes in Ford’s testimony.
Mitchell, with 25 years of advocating for victims of sexual assault, has concluded Ford’s case is “even weaker” than a standard he said-she said, contending no “reasonable prosecutor” would bring the case based on the evidence presented.
Republican senators have pointed out Ford refused to give the committee the notes from the therapy session where she supposedly first mentioned the assault.
And said said she can’t remember if she showed the notes to the Washington Post.
Mitchell found it significant that Ford claims not to remember how she got home from the party after the alleged assault occurred.
The detail is crucial, Mitchell argues, because Ford claimed it was near a country club that was about a 20-minute drive from her home.
That means it’s highly likely that someone picked her up and drove her home after the incident. That driver, presumably, would have noticed Ford being in a state of distress if she had just been sexually assaulted.