Kavanaugh’s expected two-vote victory in itself underscored how unusually divisive his nomination fight has been. It would be the closest roll call to confirm a justice since 1881, when Stanley Matthews was approved by 24-23, according to Senate records.
In the moment on Friday that made it clear Kavanaugh would prevail, Collins delivered a speech saying that Ford’s Judiciary Committee telling of the alleged 1982 assault was “sincere, painful and compelling.” But Collins said the FBI had found no corroborating evidence from witnesses whose names Ford had provided.
“We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy,” said Collins, perhaps the chamber’s most moderate Republican.
Manchin used an emailed statement to announce his support for Kavanaugh moments after Collins finished affirming hers. Manchin, the only Democrat supporting the nominee, faces a competitive re-election race next month in a state Trump carried in 2016 by 42 percentage points.
Manchin expressed empathy for sexual assault victims. But he said that after factoring in the FBI report, “I have found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist who will follow the Constitution.”
Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a fellow moderate and a friend of Collins, became the only Republican to say she opposed Kavanaugh. She said on the Senate floor Friday evening that Kavanaugh is “a good man” but his “appearance of impropriety has become unavoidable.”
In a twist, Murkowski said she would state her opposition but vote “present” as a courtesy to Kavanaugh supporter Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who is attending his daughter’s wedding in Montana. That procedure lets a senator offset another’s absence without affecting the outcome, and would allow Kavanaugh to win by the same two-vote margin he would have received had both lawmakers voted.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has repeatedly battled Trump and will retire in January, said he would vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation “unless something big changes.”
Vice President Mike Pence planned to be available Saturday in case his tie-breaking vote was needed.
In a procedural vote Friday that handed Republicans a vital initial victory, senators voted 51-49 to limit debate, defeating Democratic efforts to scuttle the nomination with endless delays.
When Trump nominated Kavanaugh in July, Democrats leapt to oppose him, saying that past statements and opinions showed he’d be a threat to the Roe v. Wade case that assured the right to abortion. They said he also seemed ready to rule for Trump if federal authorities probing allegations of connections between the president’s 2016 campaign and Russia tried to pursue him in court.
Yet Kavanaugh’s path to confirmation seemed unfettered until Ford and two other women emerged with sexual misconduct allegations from the 1980s.
Kavanaugh would replace the retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was a swing vote on issues such as abortion, campaign finance and same-sex marriage.
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Matthew Daly, Padmananda Rama, Ken Thomas and Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.
More reporting on the Supreme Court and Kavanaugh can be found at: http://apne.ws/IHcZXad