Procedural vote imminent in fight over U.S. Supreme Court nominee

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Fri, 05 Oct 2018 - 02:29 GMT

U.S. President Donald Trump talks with his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, at his nomination announcement in the East Room of the White House in Washington, July 9, 2018. Picture taken July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg/File Photo

U.S. President Donald Trump talks with his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, at his nomination announcement in the East Room of the White House in Washington, July 9, 2018. Picture taken July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg/File Photo

WASHINGTON - 5 October 2018: President Donald Trump's drive to deepen conservatives' imprint on the U.S. Supreme Court faces a test on Friday as the Senate holds a procedural vote on Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination for the country's highest court has set off a political brawl.

Trump's fellow Republicans were growing more confident they would win the 10:30 a.m. (1430 GMT) Senate vote after two wavering Republicans responded positively on Thursday to an FBI report on accusations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh.

The procedural cloture vote on whether the confirmation process should move forward would also allow party leaders to gauge the level of support for Kavanaugh.

Republicans hold a razor-thin majority in the Senate, where they plan to hold a final confirmation vote on Saturday.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Republican leaders were still not completely sure they had the votes needed to confirm Kavanaugh, Trump's second nominee to the court since he took office in January last year.

Asked on Fox News how the vote would go, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who oversaw Kavanaugh's contentious confirmation hearings, said, "As of now, I don't really know."

Senator Joe Manchin, the only Democrat known to be undecided, was reviewing the FBI report on Friday morning and would probably make his decision on the Senate floor to vote about the procedural motion, a spokesman said.

Confirmation of Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, would tip the balance on the Supreme Court to a 5-4 conservative majority, and likely help conservatives prevail in future Supreme Court decisions over issues ranging from abortion and gay rights to immigration and business regulation.

The divisive debate over Kavanaugh, inflamed by the accusations of sexual misconduct, provoked demonstrations by thousands of people on Thursday. People protesting against his nomination were gathering again on Friday in a Senate office building.

Senator John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said on Twitter on Friday that 302 protesters had been arrested on Thursday for unlawfully demonstrating in Senate buildings.

Trump, himself accused by numerous women of sexual misconduct during the 2016 presidential race, wrote on Twitter on Friday that some of the anti-Kavanaugh protesters were "paid professionals," but offered no evidence of the charge.

Trump also has said the FBI report showed that the allegations against Kavanaugh were "totally uncorroborated."

'CROSSED A LINE'

Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, meaning that if all Senate Democrats oppose Kavanaugh, Trump cannot afford to lose more than one Republican vote for his nominee, with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tiebreaking vote.

No Republicans have said they will vote against him, but all eyes will be on Manchin and on Republican Senators Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski - all potential swing votes.

While she did not pledge support for Kavanaugh, Collins said on Thursday the FBI probe appeared thorough.

Flake, who voted for Kavanaugh at the committee level on the condition that the FBI look more closely into the allegations against Kavanaugh, said he saw no additional information corroborating the sexual misconduct accusations.

Kavanaugh was nominated by Trump to succeed retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was seen as a swing vote on the court.

Most Democrats opposed the nomination from the outset, but their objections sharpened when Christine Blasey Ford, now a college professor in California, and two other women accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct during the 1980s while he was a high school and college student.

Ford and Kavanaugh testified at a dramatic Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week in which she described the alleged assault, and Kavanaugh denied all of the allegations against him, while accusing the Democrats of a political "hit."

His sometimes angry tone in turn drew accusations from critics that he was temperamentally unsuited and too overtly partisan to take up a place on the top court.

Senator Chris Coons, who pressed for the FBI probe of the allegations, told ABC News on Friday the judge "crossed a line in terms of judicial behavior and temperament" with his attack on Democrats at the hearing, something "undecided senators should be weighing very carefully."

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece on Thursday, Kavanaugh said he "might have been too emotional at times" in his testimony, saying it "reflected my overwhelming frustration at being wrongly accused."

"I know that my tone was sharp," he wrote, "and I said a few things I should not have said."

The FBI report was denounced by Democrats as a whitewash that was too narrow in scope and ignored critical witnesses.

"The (FBI) investigation doesn’t come close to honoring and respecting the women who came forward to share their stories," Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said. "It appears that the White House completely circumscribed the investigation to try to make it meaningless and they succeeded."

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