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 TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement 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 HeitkampJoe Manchin's secret Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Effective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests 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 CollinsSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol 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 CornynBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on 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 ThuneBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks MORE (R-S.D.), who predicted that Collins and other two swing Republicans — Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiBill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators 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 PortmanBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet On The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban Photos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris 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 CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBottom line Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Key Biden ally OK with dropping transit from infrastructure package 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 SchumerChuck SchumerSenate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done 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 McConnellBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire 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 ManchinJoe ManchinSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure 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.