By Bloomberg
October 5, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh moved closer to confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court by clearing a Senate test vote as Republicans hope he’ll win final approval Saturday, after allegations of sexual assault and misconduct from more than three decades ago nearly derailed his nomination.

The Senate voted 51-49 Friday to cut off debate and move to final consideration following bitter debate over his suitability for the court due to the allegations and a partisan attack he made on Democratic senators.

The outcome on the final vote is uncertain, as GOP Senator Susan Collins of Maine voted to advance the nomination but said she’ll announce later Friday whether she will vote for confirmation. GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted against moving forward with the nomination, but Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted to advance it.

“There is simply no reason to deny Judge Kavanaugh a seat on the Supreme Court based on the evidence presented to us,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa said on the Senate floor before the vote. “I hope we can say no to mob rule by voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Judiciary Committee Democrat, said Kavanaugh could move the court to the right on abortion, gun rights and other issues. She also cited Kavanaugh’s angry behavior and criticism of Democrats at last week’s hearing on the allegations.

“Never before have we had a nominee display such flagrant partisanship and open hostility at a hearing,” said Feinstein of California. “How could he? This behavior revealed a hostility and belligerence that is unbecoming of someone seeking to be elevated to the United States Supreme Court.”

FBI Investigation

The procedural vote came after senators reviewed supplemental FBI reports on interviews the bureau conducted into women’s claims dating to high school and college. Kavanaugh strongly denied the allegations, and his supporters in the Senate said the FBI found no evidence corroborating them.

Republicans are looking for Kavanaugh to cement a conservative majority on the court, while Democrats say they’re alarmed he could provide the fifth vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Putting Kavanaugh on the court would give Republicans a victory just weeks before the Nov. 6 election, in which Democrats have a chance to win control of the House and are making a longer shot bid for a Senate majority. Democrats also will campaign on the issue, accusing Republicans of rushing the confirmation without allowing the FBI to conduct a broader investigation.

Democrats have sought to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation since soon after President Donald Trump nominated him in July. They complained the Trump administration refused to release more than 100,000 pages of documents related to Kavanaugh’s work in President George W. Bush’s White House, and said they found allegations of sexual misconduct to be credible.

Partisan Gulf

Kavanaugh’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in response to allegations of sexual assault left a partisan gulf, with him on the Republican side. Kavanaugh and Democratic senators scowled and shouted at each other as he angrily, and sometimes tearfully, denied the claims.

The American Bar Association said Friday it’s re-examining its “well qualified” rating of Kavanaugh because of “new information of a material nature regarding temperament” during the hearing. In a letter to committee leaders, the association said it doesn’t expect to complete the review before the Senate vote.

If he is confirmed, Kavanaugh would arrive at the Supreme Court with political baggage at a time when justices could take up some of the nation’s most polarizing issues. Kavanaugh could provide the decisive vote to roll back abortion rights, outlaw affirmative action programs and slash environmental regulations. He might be called on to rule on issues stemming from the special counsel investigation of Trump.

Kavanaugh is Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee, following Neil Gorsuch, whom Trump selected after Republicans blocked a vote on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016.

Christine Blasey Ford

The Judiciary Committee last week heard from Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor, who told senators that she’s “one hundred percent” certain Kavanaugh attacked her in 1982 when they were teenagers, describing in detail being held down on a bed while he tried to disrobe her at a drunken high school gathering.

She described “uproarious laughter” by Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, a friend of Kavanaugh’s who has said he doesn’t recall such an incident. Several other potential witnesses named by Ford said they didn’t recall the gathering she described.

At the urging of Democrats and Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona, the White House agreed to ask the FBI to conduct additional interviews as part of its background report on Kavanaugh.

Trump had previously refused to reopen the FBI probe. The bureau conducted interviews of nine people related to allegations from Ford and Deborah Ramirez, who said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a drunken party when they were Yale University students.

Lawyers for both women said the FBI didn’t interview people who could have corroborated their accounts. For instance, Ramirez’s lawyer, William Pittard, said in a letter that investigators didn’t interview more than 20 witnesses she offered to corroborate her allegation.

‘Harsh and Unfair’

The FBI doesn’t appear to have examined allegations from Julie Swetnick, who said Kavanaugh took part in efforts at parties during high school to get girls intoxicated so that groups of boys could have sex with them. Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, called the investigation illegitimate without an inquiry into Swetnick’s claims.

Trump decried “harsh and unfair treatment” of Kavanaugh in a Thursday tweet. After earlier calling Ford’s claim “very credible,” the president mocked her testimony at a rally Tuesday in Southaven, Mississippi. Referring to Swetnick, Trump said: “This woman had no clue what was going on, and yet she made the most horrible charges.”

Kavanaugh wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece Thursday that he “might have been too emotional” at last week’s hearing. He said that going forward, he will continue being a judge who is “hardworking, even-keeled, open-minded, independent and dedicated to the Constitution and the public good.”

The allegations against Kavanaugh prompted intense reactions at the height of the “Me Too” movement, divided along political and gender lines.

Republicans said rejecting Kavanaugh’s nomination wouldn’t be fair because there was no corroborating evidence. Democrats said Ford and other accusers presented credible evidence that couldn’t be ignored. The claims prompted an outpouring from women on social media who recounted being sexually assaulted and not telling anyone about what had happened.

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