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's top adviser on Asia to serve as deputy national security adviser United Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Trump doubles down on call to investigate Biden after whistleblower complaint: 'That's the real story' 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 HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa 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 CollinsTrump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition GOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan Sinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote 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 CornynTrump walks tightrope on gun control DC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition 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 ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Pompeo condemns Iran for 'act of war' while Trump moves with caution Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' MORE (R-S.D.), who predicted that Collins and other two swing Republicans — Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week Bipartisan group of senators urges FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately Sinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote 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 PortmanCost for last three government shutdowns estimated at billion The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation 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 CoonsSenate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity Bill to return B in unredeemed bonds advances 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 SchumerToomey on gun reform: 'Beto O'Rourke is not helping' Schumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey 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 McConnellToomey on gun reform: 'Beto O'Rourke is not helping' Election meddling has become the new normal of US diplomacy DC statehood push faces long odds despite record support 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) ManchinToomey on gun reform: 'Beto O'Rourke is not helping' Trump walks tightrope on gun control O'Rourke gun confiscation talk alarms Democrats 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.