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 TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview 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 HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction 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 CollinsGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Congress must step up to protect Medicare home health care 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 CornynOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Poll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week 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 ThunePolls: Hiking estate tax less popular than taxing mega wealth, income Will Trump sign the border deal? Here's what we know Key GOP senator pitches Trump: Funding deal a 'down payment' on wall MORE (R-S.D.), who predicted that Collins and other two swing Republicans — Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week 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 PortmanGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats Steel lobby's PR blitz can't paper over damaging effects of tariffs Trade official warns senators of obstacles to quick China deal 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 CoonsTrump got in Dem’s face over abortion at private meeting: report Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Actor Chris Evans meets with Democratic senators before State of the Union 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 SchumerGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration 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 McConnellGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats The national emergency will haunt Republicans come election season Trump: McConnell should keep Senate in session until nominees are approved 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) ManchinSenate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Senate poised to confirm Trump’s attorney general pick 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.