Republican Senator Susan Collins announced her support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh Friday afternoon, strongly boosting chances that the judge will be confirmed.
Collins’ announcement comes after the U.S. Senate approved him in a preliminary vote, despite accusations of sexual misconduct against the judge.
Two key senators, Collins and Democrat Joe Manchin, both seen as swing votes, said they would support Kavanaugh, after weeks of debate about sexual violence and the nominee’s character and temperament that gripped the nation.
Collins, in remarks on the Senate floor explaining her decision to back Kavanaugh, said Ford’s accusations against him “fail to meet the more-likely-than-not standard.”
As protesters in a Capitol Hill hallway shouted, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”, Manchin told reporters an FBI investigation, which did not find corroborating evidence of Ford’s accusations, was thorough.
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“I believe Dr. Ford. Something happened to Dr. Ford. I don’t believe the facts show that it was Brett Kavanaugh, but I believe something happened,” Manchin said.
The only Republican to vote against Kavanaugh, Senator Lisa Murkowski, said in a speech on the Senate floor on Friday night that her decision was "agonizing" but after watching Kavanaugh's Senate testimony she "could not conclude that he is the right person for the court at this time."
After a bitter partisan fight that gripped the country, lawmakers backed Kavanaugh by 51 to 49 in a procedural vote that moved the Republican-controlled Senate toward a definitive decision on whether to confirm him.
The full confirmation vote could take place as early as Saturday.
Given the result of Friday's vote, federal appeals court judge Kavanaugh looked on track to get the lifetime job on the Supreme Court. But a change of heart by some lawmakers in the final vote would mean his confirmation could still be derailed.
Confirmation would hand Trump a clear victory and tip the balance on the court to a 5-4 majority in favor of conservatives in possible legal battles ahead over contentious issues such as abortion rights, immigration, and Trump's attempt to ban transgender people from the U.S. military.
The Kavanaugh fight has riveted Americans weeks before Nov. 6 elections in which Democrats are trying to take control of Congress from the Republicans.
What was already a sharply partisan battle became an intense political drama when university professor Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were in high school in Maryland in 1982. Two other women also made accusations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh in the 1980s.
He denied the allegations.