WASHINGTON — Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced today she would vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, putting him on track for confirmation in a Saturday vote as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced directly afterward that he would cross party lines to back the judge.
Collins voted “yes” on a procedural vote earlier today, ending debate on the nomination and moving it toward a final vote. She then had lunch with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted “no” on cloture and said she would also vote against Kavanaugh, who is opposed by Alaska’s largest Native group that also strongly backs Murkowski, in the final vote.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters that “unless something big changed” he’s going to vote for Kavanaugh.
With Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) planning to miss the vote for his daughter’s wedding, that would put the tally at 50-49.
Protesters in the Senate gallery shouted “vote no” as Collins took the floor to announce her decision this afternoon.
Collins declared that the Supreme Court nomination process “finally hit rock bottom,” and said senators were left to “decide what the Constitution’s advise and consent duty means.”
The senator said the president has broad discretion to pick a nominee, and said her job is to focus on the nominee’s qualifications and weigh whether the candidate’s philosophy “is within the mainstream of judicial thought.”
“I’ve never considered the president’s identity or politics when considering Supreme Court justices,” she added, noting how she voted for nominees from presidents Bush and Obama.
Collins delivered a lengthy address hitting several policy points, including stating that she believes Kavanaugh will respect precedent in Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges.
She said the Senate would be “ill-served in the long run if we abandon the presumption of innocence and fairness” and said she worried when an accusation stood in contrast to the nominee’s long track record.
“I found her testimony to be sincere, painful and compelling. I believe she is a survivor of a sexual assault and this trauma has up-ended her life,” Collins said, adding that there wasn’t evidence of corroborating witnesses to the high-school gathering at which Christine Blasey Ford said Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed.
“The facts presented do not mean that Professor Ford was not sexually assaulted that night or at some other time,” she continued, but said they “failed to meet the more-likely-than-not standard” in order to use it to dismiss Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Collins said “nothing can be further from the truth” than concluding that Kavanaugh supporters in the Senate don’t care about the scourge of sexual assault. “The #MeToo movement is real… it is long overdue.”
Collins defended Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) against GOP charges that she was behind the leak of Ford’s letter detailing her allegations. “She is a person of integrity and I stand by her,” Collins said of Feinstein, slamming the mysterious leaker as “unconscionable.”
The senator said she hoped the nominee would “work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court so that we have far fewer 5-4 decisions.”
Manchin said in a statement released after Collins’ speech that he has “reservations about this vote given the serious accusations against Judge Kavanaugh and the temperament he displayed in the hearing.”
“And my heart goes out to anyone who has experienced any type of sexual assault in their life,” he 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. I do hope that Judge Kavanaugh will not allow the partisan nature this process took to follow him onto the court.”