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 TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 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 HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward 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 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), 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 CornynKushner saying immigration plan will be 'neutral' on legal admissions: report Cornyn campaign, Patton Oswalt trade jabs over comedian's support for Senate candidate MJ Hegar announces Texas Senate bid 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 ThuneTelehealth is calling — will Congress pick up? GOP grows tired of being blindsided by Trump Hillicon Valley: Assange faces US charges after arrest | Trump says WikiLeaks 'not my thing' | Uber officially files to go public | Bezos challenges retail rivals on wages | Kremlin tightens its control over internet MORE (R-S.D.), who predicted that Collins and other two swing Republicans — Sens. 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 (Ariz.) and 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 (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 PortmanSherrod Brown asks Trump Fed pick why he referred to Cleveland, Cincinnati as 'armpits of America' Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller GOP senator wears shirt honoring Otto Warmbier at Korean DMZ 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 CoonsMenendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic Senate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain 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 SchumerMJ Hegar announces Texas Senate bid Hillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage 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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? Dems charge ahead on immigration Biden and Bernie set for clash 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) ManchinCain says he withdrew from Fed consideration because of 'pay cut' On The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed 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.