The Senate is poised to elevate Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, bringing an end to months of bitter partisan feuding marked by shocking allegations of sexual assault and vehement and angry denials from the nominee who is now set to become the newest high court justice.
The confirmation will mark a major victory for President Donald Trump, who will soon be able to take credit for appointing two conservative justices to the Supreme Court during his relatively brief time in office so far and possibly create a conservative majority on the bench for a generation.
The vote is expected to start around 3:30 p.m. ET, with all senators asked to be in their seats at that time for a formal roll call, according to a congressional aide.
Democrats railed against the nomination in Senate floor speeches Friday night and Saturday morning, and protests opposing Kavanaugh are expected throughout the day on Saturday. But the GOP has the votes to successfully confirm Kavanaugh.
Large groups of protesters gathered outside the Capitol building and across the street at the Supreme Court ahead of the final vote on Saturday. People on the steps of the Capitol chanted "vote them out!" and "the whole world is watching," messages that at times met with jeers and boos from others in the crowd.
As the clock ticked down to a final vote, Republican and Democratic senators continued to give floor speeches debating the nomination. In a sign of the tense mood at the Capitol, Republican Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas was interrupted twice by yelling from protesters in the Senate gallery, which is open to visitors. Earlier in the day, Cornyn told a group of reporters that this has "not been the Senate's finest hour," and said that "a better path forward" is needed.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley offered up some words of praise for protesters ahead of the vote. The Iowa Republican told reporters that his message to protesters would be, "thank god that you're willing to exercise your First Amendment rights of association and free speech. Keep it up, because it's going to make America stronger."
Ford allegations and partisan fighting
Friday morning began with uncertainty over whether Senate Republicans had the support necessary to push the nomination across the finish line, but the day ended with confirmation all but assured after Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, followed by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and red state Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, announced they, too, would support Kavanaugh.
It was not clear that Kavanaugh would have the votes for confirmation until Collins said in a Senate floor speech that she would support his nomination.
In outlining her argument, Collins argued that while she believes that Christine Blasey Ford, who testified last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the early 1980s, "is a survivor of a sexual assault," she does not believe that the allegation was corroborated.
"I do not believe that these charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the court," Collins said. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.
The lone Republican to oppose the nomination was Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who told reporters that while she believes Kavanaugh is "a good man," she also felt the confirmation process had become about something "bigger than a nominee."
In a floor speech later on Friday, Murkowski expressed sympathy for both Ford and Kavanaugh. She said, however, that she sets a high bar for nominees to win confirmation and talked about the importance of selecting judges who will act at all times in a manner that promotes "public confidence" in the judiciary.
"In my conscience ... I could not conclude that he is the right person for the court at this time," the senator said.
Murkowski opposes, but plans to vote 'present'
Despite her opposition to Kavanaugh, Murkowski said she plans to ultimately vote "present" in the final vote as a gesture of goodwill toward her Republican colleague, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, who supports Kavanaugh, but will be in Montana to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. The move will not impact the overall outcome of the vote, but it will allow for the margin to be the same as it would have been if Daines had been there to participate and prevent a situation where Daines would have to fly back Saturday to cast a vote to ensure the result.
"I do hope it reminds us that we can take very small steps to be gracious with one another and maybe those small, gracious steps can lead to more," Murkowski said.
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