Brett Kavanaugh has taken a crucial step forward to becoming a justice on the US’s highest court, after senators voted to move forward with a confirmation hearing for Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
By the thinnest of margins – 51 to 49 – the senate decided to proceed to a confirmation vote for Mr Kavanaugh, scheduled for Saturday.
It was the “yes” vote of Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, that ultimately gave Mr Kavanuagh’s nomination sufficient support to move forward; Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who had raised questions about the judge’s views on women’s reproductive rights and who recently criticised Mr Trump for mocking a survivor of sexual assault, noticeably voted no.
Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation is not a done deal yet. Mr Manchin, who is facing a tough re-election contest in a state that Mr Trump won by more than 40 percentage points in 2016, later said he would vote to confirm the judge, as did Susan Collins, another Republican swing-voter, who delivered a 45-minute speech explaining why she was voting yes. Jeff Flake also indicated he would support the judge.
There have been a number of instances when senators have voted yes at this procedural so-called “cloture” stage, to subsequently then vote no. The late John McCain famously voted no to Mr Trump and Republicans’ efforts to further strip away Barack Obama’s healthcare programme, having earlier voted yes. In reality, however, such instances are not common.
If the confirmation vote is locked 50-50, then vice president Mike Pence will step forward to provide the tie-breaking vote to confirm Mr Kavanaugh.
Reports said Mr Pence watched the vote from the White House. He is heading to New York later on Friday for a congressional fundraiser, but will be back in Washington for the final vote.
Despite the uncertainty, Friday morning’s decision was enough for supporters of the 53-year-old nominee to leap on.
Among them was Mr Trump, who tweeted: “Very proud of the US Senate for voting “YES” to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh!”
The nomination for the jurist, who spent his last 12 years working at the federal appeals court in Washington DC, considered the second most important in the country, was always controversial because of Mr Kavanaugh’s previously stated views on abortion rights.
Opponents of the devout Catholic claimed he was open to overturning the 1973 landmark Roe v Wade ruling that has been used to guarantee women access to legal abortion.
The first day of his confirmation hearing was met by large numbers of protesters who marched with placards outside the Supreme Court, close to where he was being questioned by senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But it became even more toxic after at least three women stepped forward to accuse Mr Kavanaugh of sexual assault or misconduct – allegations he stridently denied and which even led him to give an interview to Fox News – an unprecedented event for a Supreme Court nominee still awaiting confirmation.
One of the women, Christine Blasey Ford, testified to senators how Mr Kavanaugh had tried to sexually assault her at a high school party in Maryland in 1982. A second woman, Deborah Ramirez, said Mr Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her at a drunken dormitory party at Yale University.
A third women, Julie Swetnick, provided senators with a sworn statement saying she had been present at at least 10 parties where the teenage Mr Kavanaugh and a friend, Mark Judge, had drugged young women so that they could be gang-raped.
Mr Kavanaugh and Mr Judge denied all of these accusations.
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