Republican leaders are showing increasing confidence in the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. (Oct. 4)
WASHINGTON – The battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is nearing an end with a key Senate vote just hours away.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation has intensified the polarization between parties as both Republicans and Democrats hurled insults and salacious claims over the weeks to keep public opinion on their side.
The vote on Kavanaugh, who is accused of sexual assault, has been seen as a test for the #MeToo movement and its results could reverberate into next month’s midterm elections. In the end, though, Kavanaugh’s appointment to the high court would tilt the balance of power on the high court to conservatives for years to come.
Each vote in the razor-thin Republican majority will carry more weight than usual as Kavanaugh’s appointment will hold for life. Some key votes could come down to the results of an FBI investigation over accusations of sexual assault when Kavanaugh was in high school and college.
Republican leaders were increasingly optimistic on Thursday about Kavanaugh’s chances as several undecided Republicans expressed initial positive reactions to the investigation.
Two Republican senators, Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, seemed pleased with the FBI’s 46-page report, but both did not say how they would vote. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, still has not commented on the report or given any signal on how she would vote.
Every other Republican senator except the three has come out in support of President Donald Trump’s pick for the high court.
But more uncertainty remains because there is one undecided Democrat: Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He hails from a state President Donald Trump won in 2016, and faces a tough re-election bid this fall.
A vote would require 51 votes for passage – or a 50-50 vote with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a tie – as the confirmation vote. The Senate is split with 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, so conservatives can’t lose more than one vote.
An opinion piece authored by Kavanaugh in the Wall Street Journal could also sway some key votes. Kavanaugh took on criticism over his aggressive tone during a hearing last week with Christine Blasey Ford, one of the women who accused him of sexual assault. Kavanaugh, during the hearing, accused liberals of orchestrating a “political hit” on him and repeatedly called out Democrats.
In the piece, Kavanaugh regretted his “sharp” tone and wrote he’d said “a few things I should not have” during the hearings. He said the comments should not be seen as any type of bias and promised to always keep an open mind as a judge.
“Going forward, you can count on me to be the same kind of judge and person I have been for my entire 28-year legal career: hardworking, even-keeled, open-minded, independent and dedicated to the Constitution and the public good,” he wrote.
His confirmation would represent a major victory for conservatives, but it is less clear how the politics will play out moving forward. Control of the Senate and House of Representatives is up for grabs in next month’s midterm elections, which will be seen as a referendum on Trump’s first two years in office. If Democrats win a Senate majority, they will be able to block Trump’s judicial nominees for the next two years.
The vote on Kavanaugh has also been viewed as a big test in the #MeToo era, which galvanized around Ford and Kavanaugh’s other accusers. But, the movement, born less than a year ago, had a major influence during the past few weeks, turning what had seemed like a cakewalk for Kavanaugh into what now looks like a razor-thin confirmation.
Kavanaugh’s nomination always was destined to become a partisan battleground because of the justice he was picked to replace: Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s swing vote, who had sided with his liberal colleagues on issues such as abortion, affirmative action and gay rights. Kennedy, 81, retired after three decades in the middle of the court’s ideological battles.
Only two years earlier, liberals appeared on the verge of taking control of the court, which would have made Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg the leader of a five-seat majority. But Republicans refused throughout 2016 to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland to succeed conservative Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. Then President Donald Trump’s upset victory kept the seat in conservative hands and the court divided down the middle.
Kennedy’s retirement in July gave conservatives the chance they were waiting for decades to achieve: a reliable Supreme Court majority capable of reversing liberals’ legislative and regulatory achievements. Kavanaugh seemed a perfect choice: one of the nation’s preeminent jurists, with 12 years and more than 300 opinions on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the stepping-stone for many Supreme Court justices. He had a solidly conservative voting record but was respected by his liberal colleagues as well qualified for the promotion.
Contributing: Eliza Collins, David Jackson
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