Brett Kavanaugh on track to Supreme Court as GOP defeats Dem filibuster
Republicans beat back a Democrat-led filibuster Friday and kept Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on track, in a vote freighted with meaning far beyond simply adding a ninth justice to the bench.
The 51-49 vote saw one defection from each party, canceling each other out and giving the judge enough leeway to clear the procedural hurdle. A final confirmation vote now looms on Saturday, and that remains in doubt.
But overcoming the filibuster was still a major step for Republicans, who cast Friday’s vote as a chance to send a message to the public at a time of deep divisions and historic partisan rancor.
“We know the Senate is better than this. We know the nation deserves better than this,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The vote was unclear until the end, with four members publicly undecided: GOP Sens. Susan Collins, Jeff Flake and Lisa Murkowski, and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.
Ms. Murkowski joined Democrats in their filibuster, but the other three voted to end debate and advance to a final vote.
Ms. Collins, though, has signaled that her vote Friday morning was only to overcome the filibuster, and she will announce her final stance on confirming Judge Kavanaugh later in the day.
Democratic leaders denounced the entire confirmation process that led to Friday’s vote, blaming the GOP for trying to push the judge through too quickly, complaining that he would be too conservative, and spinning theories that President Trump picked Judge Kavanaugh to try to shield himself from legal troubles from the special counsel’s Russia probe.
Most of all, they cited the recent sexual misconduct allegations against the judge, relating to decades-old high school and college parties.
“Based on all the factors we have before us, I do not believe Judge Kavanaugh has earned this seat,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who found herself at the center of the confirmation battle, pressured by her party’s left wing to do everything possible to defeat the nominee.
But Democrats also doubted they could have backed any pick Mr. Trump was likely to make.
“The well as poisoned from the outset,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Republicans had hoped to have Judge Kavanaugh on the high court in time for the justices’ new session, which began earlier this week. But last-minute sexual assault allegations derailed that schedule, forcing a new round of hearings and an updated FBI investigation.
Though the hearing produced some stunning political moments, neither it nor the FBI probe appeared to settle the deep divide among Americans over whether they believe Judge Kavanaugh or his chief accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.
Ms. Blasey Ford says the judge assaulted her at a high school party in 1982.
The people she has identified as potentially corroborating witnesses have refuted her story, and Judge Kavanaugh has indignantly denied her claim.
Yet support for her remains strong, particularly among anti-Trump activists who viewed the judge’s confirmation as their chance to deal a major defeat to the president. They also fear Judge Kavanaugh would be too conservative, predicting his vote would be the tipping point for a nine-justice court and sending it careening into right-wing activism.
Those fears helped fuel wild protests both inside and outside the Senate this week, with hundreds arrested inside congressional office buildings on Thursday.
For Democratic senators, there was little they liked about the judge and the process.
Though a record number of documents were produced to the Judiciary Committee to review, millions of pages were not produced and Democrats said they suspected serious smoking guns remained hidden. They also complained that Judge Kavanaugh, who had won rave reviews for his judicial temperament during 12 years on the circuit court of appeals in Washington, D.C., had shown decidedly non-judicial behavior in his angry denunciation last week of the allegations against him.
“Judge Kavanaugh made partisan statements last week that I never thought I would hear from a nominee seeking a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land,” Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said on Twitter.
Friday’s vote to overcome a filibuster sets up a final vote Saturday though there are still some potential hiccups.
One Republican senator plans to attend his daughter’s wedding Saturday, which could complicate timing of a vote.
And Sen. Jeff Merkley is still pursuing a long-shot lawsuit to ask a judge to intervene and order the release of more documents from Judge Kavanaugh’s past, which the Oregon Democrat hopes would spur a new delay in confirmation.