Bitter partisan battle over Kavanaugh enters final chapter

The Senate will take a pivotal vote Friday on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as the battle over President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report George Conway on Trump adding Dershowitz, Starr to legal team: 'Hard to see how either could help' MORE’s pick enters its final chapter.

Four senators — three Republicans and a Democrat — remained undecided on Thursday, though two of them signaled a sense of satisfaction with the FBI’s investigation of sexual misconduct allegations that threatened to torpedo Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Senate Republican leaders plan to hold a key procedural vote Friday morning, setting up a confirmation vote for Saturday afternoon. Friday's cloture vote is scheduled to happen at 10:30 a.m.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampSusan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same MORE (N.D.), one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this year, said Thursday she would be voting “no” on Kavanaugh, making her the penultimate Senate Democrat to announce her position.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate Murkowski wants senators to 'really hear the case' before deciding on impeachment witnesses Republicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment MORE (Maine), one of the three undecided GOP senators, is expected to announce her position on Friday morning.

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If senators vote Friday to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination, as expected, they will have to allow another 30 hours for procedural debate, putting the final vote in mid-afternoon the following day.

Saturday’s vote will cap three months of bitter fighting over the most contested Supreme Court nominee since Justice Clarence Thomas faced sexual harassment accusations in 1991.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation process was wracked by political warfare even before Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, accused him of sexually assaulting her at a party in the early 1980s, when they were both in high school.

Democrats slammed Republicans for making tens of thousands of pages of documents from Kavanaugh’s record available to them only hours before his first confirmation hearing, as well as initially barring almost half of the documents from being made public.

The fighting reached a new level of intensity after Ford went public with her assault allegation.

Nearly 300 people were arrested Thursday afternoon after staging loud protests in the Hart Senate Office Building, while protesters have also been confronting multiple swing senators in the hallways in recent days.

Senate Republicans on Thursday declared that any trace of bipartisanship on judicial nominees has evaporated and warned that it would deter future candidates from being willing to undergo the confirmation process.

“If this is the new normal, woe be to the Senate and any nominee that could be subjected to the unacceptable character assassination that we’ve seen directed at this nominee,” said Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial Cornyn disputes GAO report on withholding of Ukraine aid: It's 'certainly not a crime' MORE (Texas). “If that’s the new normal, I don’t know who would want to serve.”

Anti-Kavanaugh protests have grown so intense on Capitol Hill that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have been assigned police escorts for protection.

GOP senators say they expect Collins, one of the most influential Republican women in Washington, to vote for the nominee because she views him as a consensus-building judge and not a conservative ideologue.

“I’m sensing we’re in a good place,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate to vote on Trump's Canada, Mexico trade deal Thursday Senate braces for Trump impeachment trial Republicans face internal brawl over impeachment witnesses MORE (R-S.D.), who predicted that Collins and other two swing Republicans — Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP senator calls CNN reporter a 'liberal hack' when asked about Parnas materials The 5 most vulnerable senators in 2020 Poll: Democrat Mark Kelly leads incumbent McSally in Arizona Senate race MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski wants senators to 'really hear the case' before deciding on impeachment witnesses Republicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment GOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff MORE (Alaska) — would vote “yes.”

Thune said the FBI’s “supplemental investigation checked all the boxes and I think satisfied the concerns they had about talking to more people, particularly people who were allegedly there.”

Colleagues who have talked with Collins say she views Kavanaugh as a better pick for the Supreme Court than some of the other candidates on Trump’s short list because of the temperament he demonstrated during his 12 years on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

That reputation, however, was undermined by testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, when Kavanaugh angrily clashed with Democratic senators.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, speaking to a small audience in Boca Raton, Fla., on Thursday, said Kavanaugh’s aggressive performance should disqualify him.

“The senators should pay attention to this,” he said, according to a reporter for the Palm Beach Post who attended the event.

Senators on both sides of the aisle for weeks have viewed Collins, who prides herself as an independent voice, as the vote that would make or break Kavanaugh.

She has consulted closely in recent days with Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' Bipartisan group of senators introduces legislation to boost state cybersecurity leadership Senate approves Trump trade deal with Canada, Mexico MORE (R-Ohio), one of her best friends in the Senate, who worked with Kavanaugh in the George W. Bush administration and introduced him to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

Portman met with Collins on Thursday morning to discuss Kavanaugh’s nomination. He was also spotted escorting her out of the secure room in the Capitol Visitor Center, where she reviewed the FBI’s 46-page report Thursday afternoon.

She later returned to the room and spent roughly two hours reviewing the report’s details.

“I have finished reviewing and reading all of the interviews, but I’m not giving comment now," she said afterward, while being escorted through the Senate basement by a Capitol Police officer. 

Collins declined to answer multiple questions, including if she stood by her earlier remark that the report was "thorough" or about how she would vote Friday, but said she also read "many" of the transcripts from the FBI's tip line. 

Collins praised the FBI investigation earlier in the day as "very thorough," which Democrats took as a clear sign that she is leaning in Kavanaugh's favor.

Flake, who voted for Kavanaugh last week when the Judiciary Committee advanced his nomination to the Senate floor, is also expected to vote to confirm him.

Flake asked for and secured a one-week delay of a floor vote on Kavanaugh to give the FBI time to conduct a supplemental background investigation into the recent allegations against Kavanaugh.

The Arizona Republican told reporters Thursday that the FBI’s report found no corroboration of Ford’s accusation that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and tried to pull off her clothes in 1982 when they were in high school.

Democratic Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Democrats scramble to rein in Trump's Iran war powers Administration officials defend Trump claims, Soleimani intelligence as senators push back on briefing MORE (Del.) said he hoped to speak with Flake on Thursday but downplayed that they had an agenda after the two crafted the one-week timeline for the FBI investigation.

Coons found himself temporarily at the center of a reporter frenzy Thursday after a source told The Atlantic that Flake was "still having issues" and wanted to speak to Coons.

"I have nothing specific or concrete or relevant I can give you," Coons said, when asked if they were meeting. "There is no secret scheme that I am hiding."

Senate Democrats criticized the investigation as falling far short of a thorough review, and Ford’s legal team wrote a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray noting that investigators failed to contact several witnesses who they said had “information highly relevant to Dr. Ford’s allegations.”

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump administration installs plaque marking finish of 100 miles of border wall Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate implications MORE (N.Y.) challenged GOP statements that the FBI report failed to corroborate Ford’s claims.

“It appears very clearly to me that the FBI was severely limited in which questions they could ask and which leads they could follow,” he said.

“To say that this investigation exonerates Judge Kavanaugh, or to say that this is a complete investigation, is patently false,” he added, arguing that it’s “just not true” that there was “no hint of misconduct.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public George Conway group drops ad seeking to remind GOP senators of their 'sworn oaths' ahead of impeachment trial GOP senator 'open' to impeachment witnesses 'within the scope' of articles MORE (R-Ky.) dismissed that argument.

“We know for sure is that there's no way anything we did would satisfy the Democrats,” he told reporters Thursday afternoon. “They've always got a reason why the goal posts need to be moved further down the field and nothing we could would satisfy them.”

Every Senate Democrat has announced they will oppose Kavanaugh except for centrist Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer Poll: West Virginia voters would view Manchin negatively if he votes to convict Trump Pelosi set to send impeachment articles to the Senate next week MORE (W.Va.), who faces reelection in a state Trump won by 42 points in 2016.

Manchin told reporters Thursday afternoon that he’s still weighing his decision.

“I'm going through it. I have more that I've got to go tomorrow morning and they'll have it all ready," he said after reviewing roughly half the report. "I tried to read as fast as I can.”

Manchin was later confronted in the basement of the Hart Building by a protester demanding to know why he was planning to vote for Kavanaugh.

“How do you know how I’m going to vote?” he shot back.