WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Brett Kavanaugh, the embattled U.S. Supreme Court nominee put forward by President Donald Trump, was poised to win Senate confirmation on Saturday, weathering sexual misconduct allegations and attacks on his character and temperament.
After weeks of intense debate that has gripped the nation, the conservative appeals court judge on Friday won vows of support from two centrist senators, leaving no clear path in the Senate for Kavanaugh’s opponents to block him.
Earlier on Friday, he barely survived a procedural test, when senators voted 51-49 to advance his nomination to a final vote that was set for around 5 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Saturday. It could come slightly sooner, however.
Confirmation of Kavanaugh would give Trump a clear win in his drive to cement conservative dominance of the high court, a bitter outcome for Democrats who could not get their own liberal nominee confirmed due to Republican delaying tactics in 2016.
Republicans held open an empty seat that year, which Trump filled in 2017 with conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch. Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh would replace, retired this year after decades of being a swing vote on the court.
With divisive cases on abortion rights, immigration, transgender rights and business regulation headed for the court, Kavanaugh likely would give conservatives the upper hand.
His confirmation would also allow Trump to hit the campaign trail ahead of the Nov. 6 congressional elections bragging that he has kept his 2016 promise to mold a more conservative American judiciary.
Capping a suspenseful day on Friday, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine declared on the Senate floor, “I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”
She praised his judicial record and argued there was no corroboration of sexual assault charges made against him by psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford. Two other women also accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct decades ago. Kavanaugh has denied all the allegations.
Moments after Collins pledged to back Kavanaugh, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, in a tough race for re-election in West Virginia where Trump is popular, also declared his support, leaving little doubt of a Republican victory.
Senators then endured a rare all-night session to satisfy the requirement of 30 hours of debate following Friday’s vote.
Amid tighter-than-usual security, a large group of protesters assembled on the grounds of the Capitol, chanting “We believe (sexual assault) survivors” and “Shame on you.”
Senate Republicans, except for Lisa Murkowski, stood by Kavanaugh in a move that could resonate, particularly with women voters, in the Nov. 6 elections to determine control of the Senate and House of Representatives.
Even before the lurid sexual assault charges surfaced, Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate were fighting hard to stop Kavanaugh, saying his conservative judicial philosophy could result in rolling back abortion rights, gay rights and protections for immigrants. They also challenged the veracity of some of his Judiciary Committee testimony.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Kavanaugh represents “a hard-right, conservative jurisprudence, far, far away from what average Americans believe.”
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell led the nominee’s defense, calling him “one of the most impressive, stunningly qualified nominees in our nation’s history” and accusing Democrats of a “smear” campaign.
Reporting by Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker in Washington; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Matthew Lewis