Collins to support Kavanaugh, securing enough votes for confirmation

GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell pledges to be 'Grim Reaper' for progressive policies Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump MORE (Maine) said Friday that she will support Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, clinching the votes he needs to be confirmed.

"I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh," Collins said at the end of a roughly 45 minute speech on the Senate floor.

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Collins rejected several of the arguments that opponents of Kavanaugh, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, put forth in saying he should not be confirmed, including concerns that he will scale back protections for pre-existing conditions in health insurance and that he would insulate President TrumpDonald John TrumpPresenting the 2020 Democratic bracket The time has come for the Democrats to act, finally DHS expedites border wall replacement in Arizona, Texas MORE from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s Russia investigation.

"Judge Kavanaugh has been unequivocal in his belief that no president is above the law," Collins said.

Collins also dismissed concerns from progressives and Democrats that Kavanaugh would provide a fifth vote for weakening or overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established the right to an abortion. If confirmed, Kavanaugh will succeed former Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was the fifth vote on a 1992 case upholding Roe v. Wade.

"Protecting this right is important to me,” Collins said. “To my knowledge, Judge Kavanaugh is the first Supreme Court nominee to express the view that precedent is not merely a practice and tradition but rooted in Article Three," Collins said.

Almost no Democrats were present while Collins spoke, an apparent reflection of the increasingly clear signals she sent to colleagues over the past 24 hours that she would likely vote 'yes.'

A small group of protesters interrupted the beginning of her speech, chanting “Show up for women!” and “vote no.”

Another group of women dressed mostly in black stomped loudly out of the gallery above the chamber as Collins was midway through her speech.

Many of Collins’s GOP colleagues showed up to listen to her speech and show support.

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTrump: 'No money was paid' to North Korea for Otto Warmbier Sherrod Brown asks Trump Fed pick why he referred to Cleveland, Cincinnati as 'armpits of America' Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller MORE (R-Ohio), one of her closest friends in the Senate, whispered something in her ear shortly before she began speaking while Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott Gardner Gun control group sues FEC over alleged failure to act against NRA Graham says Senate should vote on Sanders prisoner voting idea Congress can open financial institutions to legal cannabis industry with SAFE Banking Act MORE (R-Colo.), who, like Collins, faces a potentially tough re-election in 2020, cracked a joke with her as she walked to her desk.

Collins's decision means Kavanaugh will have at least 50 votes, the amount needed to let Vice President Pence break a tie during a final up-or-down confirmation vote if all senators are voting.

If Pence's vote is needed, it will be the first time a vice president has been used to cast the decisive, tie-breaking vote for a Supreme Court nominee.

It's possible Kavanaugh could get more than 50 votes. Senators voted 51-49 to end debate on his nomination Friday. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinNBC's Kelly O'Donnell tears up over video celebrating 25 years at network Sanders, Klobuchar among five most popular senators: poll Cain says he withdrew from Fed consideration because of 'pay cut' MORE (D-W.Va.), who voted to proceed with the confirmation process, announced immediately after Collins finished speaking on the floor that he will support the nominee during the final vote.

The support from Collins provides a major boost to Republicans, who faced a minor setback earlier in the day when Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOn The Money: Cain withdraws from Fed consideration | Says he didn't want 'pay cut' | Trump sues to block subpoena for financial records | Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle Cain withdraws from Fed consideration Cain says he 'won't run away from criticism' in push for Fed seat MORE (R-Alaska) voted against proceeding with Kavanaugh's nomination.

Murkowski hasn't explicitly said she will oppose Kavanaugh's nomination on Saturday, but told reporters she had "wrestled" with the nomination, which she called the "most difficult" decision she has had to make.

"I believe that Brett Kavanaugh is a good man," Murkowski told reporters on Friday. "I believe he is a good man. It just may be that in my view he's not the right man for the court at this time."

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family MORE (R-Ariz.), who announced last week that he would support Kavanaugh, reaffirmed on Friday that he would vote "yes" during Saturday's confirmation vote.

Collins's decision comes a day after senators viewed an FBI report on the agency's investigation into sexual assault allegations that have thrown Kavanaugh's nomination into chaos.

Collins told reporters on Thursday morning that she thought the investigation was "very thorough." She declined to say later in the day if she stood by that comment.

During her speech Friday, Collins said that some of the allegations against Kavanaugh were "outlandish," while noting that she believes Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh's first accuser, was sexually assaulted.

"I believe that she is a survivor of a sexual assault and that this trauma has upended her life," Collins said.

But Collins said other individuals allegedly at the party where Ford says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the early 1980s could not corroborate her account.

Collins added that if senators rejected Kavanaugh over the accusations it would be "hugely damaging to this confirmation process."

"This debate is complicated further by the fact that the Senate confirmation process is not a trial ... but certain fundamental legal principles about due process, the presumption of innocence and fairness do bear on my thinking and I cannot abandon them," Collins said.

She added that Ford's allegations did not meet the "more likely than not standard" but tried to stress that she was not saying sexual assault was not a serious problem in the country.

"The 'Me Too' movement is real. It matters. It is needed and it is long overdue," she said.

The Maine Republican has been at the center of the months-long Supreme Court fight and closely watched by her GOP colleagues in the final days of the fight over Kavanaugh's nomination.

Though she’s not up for reelection until 2020, outside groups have raised more than $1.8 million that they pledged to donate to a potential Democratic opponent if she supported Kavanaugh.

Collins blasted the Senate's confirmation fight, saying it has become "so dysfunctional it looks more like a caricature of a gutter-level political campaign instead of a solemn occasion."

Several protesters from the gallery overlooking the chamber interrupted Collins immediately after she began speaking, yelling,"Vote 'no,' show up for Maine women!"

She's also been frequently shadowed by colleagues, most notably Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and had lunch Friday with with a group of senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Watchdog clears defense chief in ethics probe | Pentagon to handle security background checks | Senate to take up Trump's Yemen veto next week Senate to take up Trump's Yemen veto next week A new age for tobacco — raising the age to 21 is a smart move MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOn The Money: Fed pick Moore says he will drop out if he becomes a 'political problem' | Trump vows to fight 'all the subpoenas' | Deutsche Bank reportedly turning Trump records over to NY officials | Average tax refund down 2 percent Kushner saying immigration plan will be 'neutral' on legal admissions: report Cornyn campaign, Patton Oswalt trade jabs over comedian's support for Senate candidate MORE (R-Texas), before her floor speech.

Some Republicans had voiced confidence that Collins would ultimately vote with them on Kavanaugh despite being at the center of a multimillion-dollar ad war meant to sway her vote. McConnell told reporters after Friday's lunch that he was feeling "optimistic" about the Saturday vote.

Roughly 20 Republican senators were on the Senate floor as Collins gave her speech, including Cornyn and McConnell, who had his chair turned to face her while she spoke.

GOP Sens. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore Capito20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall We can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's Gillibrand, Grassley reintroduce campus sexual assault bill MORE (W.Va.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (Miss.) sat behind Collins as she gave her speech. The two normally sit elsewhere on the Senate floor, and the move appeared to be aimed at showing there were other senators on the floor for those watching on TV.

-- Alexander Bolton contributed reporting. Updated at 5:30 p.m.