Collins to support Kavanaugh, securing enough votes for confirmation

GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret Collins10 top Republicans who continue to deny the undeniable GOP braces for impeachment brawl Furious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria 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 TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report MORE from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network 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 Portman10 top Republicans who continue to deny the undeniable GOP braces for impeachment brawl GOP senator: 'Not appropriate' to ask foreign governments to investigate Biden 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 GardnerGOP braces for impeachment brawl Republicans wrestle with impeachment strategy McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows 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) ManchinThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Fallout from Kavanaugh confirmation felt in Washington one year later 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 MurkowskiGOP braces for impeachment brawl Murkowski warns against rushing to conclusions on Trump impeachment GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe 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 FlakeHow to survive an impeachment Are Senate Republicans certain that Trump can return to office? Jeff Flake calls Trump's language 'authoritarian' 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 McConnellFury over Trump Syria decision grows Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump to slap sanctions on Turkey for Syria offensive | Trump calls on Turkey to broker ceasefire | Pelosi, Graham seek deal on sanctions | Ex-Trump aide testifies in impeachment probe Trump: Let Assad, Russia or China protect the Kurds MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP braces for impeachment brawl Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Judge blocks Trump 'public charge' rule | Appeals court skeptical of Trump arguments for Medicaid work requirements | CDC offers guidance for treating vaping-related cases GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe 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 CapitoGaetz: Some lawmakers reviewed transcript at White House On The Money: Trump takes aim at China in UN address | Consumer confidence fell as trade tensions rose | Senate proposes billion for Trump border wall Senate proposes billion for Trump border wall 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.