Collins to support Kavanaugh, securing enough votes for confirmation

GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenators want assurances from attorney general pick on fate of Mueller probe 5 themes to watch for in 2020 fight for House Judd Gregg: The last woman standing 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 TrumpThe Memo: Ayers decision casts harsh light on Trump NASA offers to show Stephen Curry evidence from moon landings Freedom Caucus calls on leadership to include wall funding, end to 'catch and release' in funding bill MORE from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert 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 PortmanThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Congress to act soon to avoid shutdown On The Money: Trump touts China actions day after stock slide | China 'confident' on new trade deal | GM chief meets lawmakers to calm anger over cuts | Huawei CFO arrested GM chief meets lawmakers to calm anger over cuts 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 GardnerCan a rising tide of female legislators lift all boats? Setting the record straight about No Labels Overnight Health Care: Senators urge vote on delaying health insurance tax | Joe Kennedy III 'hopeful' he can back 'Medicare for all' bill | Latest Ebola outbreak becomes world's 2nd-worst 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) ManchinSchumer to Trump: Future infrastructure bill must combat climate change Overnight Energy: Senate confirms controversial energy pick | EPA plans rollback of Obama coal emissions rule | GOP donor gave Pruitt K for legal defense Senate confirms Trump’s controversial energy pick 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 MurkowskiSenate advances Trump energy pick after Manchin flips The Senate must reject Bernard McNamee’s nomination for FERC Overnight Defense: Congress pauses to mourn George H.W. Bush | Haspel to brief senators on Khashoggi killing | Soldier is fourth to die from Afghan IED blast 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 FlakeFlake: Republican Party ‘is a frog slowly boiling in water’ Tim Scott: Stop giving court picks with 'questionable track records on race' a Senate vote Flake stands firm on sending a ‘message to the White House’ on Mueller 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 McConnellCornyn opens door to including criminal justice bill in government funding measure The Hill's Morning Report — Trump shakes up staff with eye on 2020, Mueller probe Judd Gregg: The government goes geriatric MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn opens door to including criminal justice bill in government funding measure This week: Trump, Dems set to meet amid funding fight GOP tensions running high on criminal justice bill 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 CapitoDole salute embodies emotion of Bush farewell Hispanic Caucus sets red lines on DHS spending bill Republican leaders seek to calm shutdown worries 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.