Susan Collins Clears the Way for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court Confirmation
In a widely anticipated decision, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said Friday that she would vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Her decision means that Kavanaugh, who faces multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, is all but assured to be confirmed to the Supreme Court when the Senate votes this weekend.
“I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh,” Collins said at the end of a 45-minute speech laying out her argument for supporting the judge. During the speech, she spoke in detail about Kavanaugh’s record and explained that she believed he was a qualified justice.
When Collins got to the recent allegations against Kavanaugh, she said that she believed some more than others. While she did not believe allegations that Kavanaugh had been at parties where girls were gang raped, she said she took more seriously the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, the California psychology professor who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when the two were in high school. Collins said she believes that Ford is a survivor of assault, but that there was not enough evidence to convince the Senator that Kavanaugh was involved. A “presumption of innocence and fairness” had to prevail, she said.
“I do not believe that these charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the court,” Collins said.
Immediately after Collins completed her speech, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the lone holdout in the chamber, announced that he would break with his Democratic colleagues and also vote for Kavanaugh. “I have reservations about this vote given the serious accusations against Judge Kavanaugh and the temperament he displayed in the hearing. And my heart goes out to anyone who has experienced any type of sexual assault in their life. However, based on all of the information I have available to me, including the recently completed FBI report, I have found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist who will follow the Constitution and determine cases based on the legal findings before him,” Manchin said in a written statement.
Collins’ speech came after Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, another key Republican swing vote, said earlier Friday he would also vote for Kavanaugh barring any major unforeseen events. With Flake, Collins and Manchin on board, Kavanaugh will very likely have 51 votes in favor and will not need Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote.
Protesters opposing and in favor of Kavanaugh lined up both alongside and inside Collins office in the hours preceding her announcement. Demonstrators wore pins that read “I said believe Christine Blasey Ford” and held signs that said “We will not be silent” while others wore shirts emblazoned with “Confirm Kavanaugh.” Some had “vote no” written on their arms. Inside her office, demonstrators were telling their own stories and writing notes to the Senator describing their own experiences.
“I’m a survivor of sexual assault, my story is not dissimilar to Dr. Fords,” Chelsea Pace, who was standing outside of Collins’ office with her husband, said tearfully. “It’s been a really tough week. It’s never been an easy time to be a survivor of sexual assault .. to have a judicial system thats designed to believe men over women, to believe perpetrators over survivors, it’s kind of debilitating.”
When Collins stood up to make her speech on the Senate floor Friday afternoon, people in the gallery shouted loudly and had to be told they were not allowed to express approval or disapproval before she could begin. A police detail was stationed outside Collins’ office and appeared to be clearing those spectators standing outside during her speech, but the hallway opened again when she finished talking.
The morning began with the Senate advancing Kavanaugh in a key procedural vote, during which one key Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, broke with her party to vote “no” and one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voted “yes.”
Collins and Flake both voted “yes” at the morning procedural vote, which focused on whether his final confirmation vote could come to the floor in 30 hours. The motion passed 51-49 along party lines except for Murkowski and Manchin, meaning the final confirmation vote will likely take place this weekend.
Since the very moment Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in June, the political world’s attention focused on Collins. She is widely viewed as the most moderate Republican senator, and famously defected from her party to help sink Obamacare repeal last year. She also supports abortion rights — which is particularly important, because Roe v. Wadewould be at risk should Kennedy be replaced by a further-right conservative.
In fact, Collins even laid down a marker, saying on July 1: “I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade because that would mean to me that their judicial philosophy did not include a respect for established decisions, established law.”
Yet all along since Trump announced he would nominate Brett Kavanaugh, Collins has sounded quite positive about the choice. After interviewing Kavanaugh in private, she called him “well credentialed” and “thoughtful in his approach to the issues.” She’s also said, “I do not believe he’s going to repeal Roe v. Wade.”
To explain why she felt so confident about this, she cited Kavanaugh’s support for “precedent,” claimed that he “clearly reveres our Constitution.” But she also indicated she’d discussed Roewith Kavanaugh specifically. Kavanaugh told her that to overrule a precedent, particularly a decades-old one like Roe, it “would have to be grievously wrong and deeply inconsistent,” she said. (Liberals have responded by calling her naïve, and questioning why the right would so staunchly back Kavanaugh if they thought he’d uphold Roe.)
All along, Collins has faced enormous pressure from both sides. Though she’s defied political gravity and won easy reelection for years in a purple state, sharing the ballot with Trump in 2020 could well prove more difficult. And progressive activists have been intensely lobbying — some groups even raised $2 million that they said they’ll spend on behalf of her opponent, if Collins supports Kavanaugh. (Collins complained that this was akin to a “bribe.”)
After Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh (which he denied), Collins said it was important to hear her out. And she backed her fellow moderates’ call for a one-week delay in the vote, so the FBI could look into the allegations. But once the FBI sent their findings to Capitol Hill Thursday, Collins said that their investigation looked “very thorough” to her — in contrast to Democrats, who complained it wasn’t anywhere near thorough enough.
Indeed, in her speech she suggested that Democrats were manipulating Ford for political reasons. “I could not help but feel that some people who wanted to engineer the defeat of this nomination cared little, if at all, for her well-being,” she said, reserving particular ire for the unknown person who leaked the contents of her letter.
In the end, though, Collins didn’t sound particularly conflicted. She said that she didn’t believe activists who argued that Kavanaugh would overturn Roe v. Wade, saying that many previous Republican appointees — Sandra Day O’Connor, David Souter, and Anthony Kennedy — declined to do so.
Indeed, she was positively effusive in her defense of Kavanaugh, saying that according to those who know him best, “He has been an exemplary public servant, judge, teacher, coach, and father.”
Before procedural vote, President Donald Trump tweeted criticisms of the protestors who have filled the Capitol in recent days, saying they were only there to “make Senators look bad.”
The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love! #Troublemakers
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2018
After the vote, the President appeared more satisfied. “Very proud of the U.S. Senate for voting “YES” to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh!” he tweeted.
Very proud of the U.S. Senate for voting “YES” to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2018
After Collins announced her decision Friday afternoon, Republican colleagues said she had gone through a very thorough process to reach her conclusion.
Sen. Thom Tillis, who sits on the judiciary committee, said he did not know how Collins was going to vote until her speech, although he had an inkling she would be supporting Kavanaugh after she voted for cloture. “What I observed was probably bar none the most exhaustive process she was going through,”