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WASHINGTON (CBS/CNN/AP) — In what has been a contentious confirmation process, the Senate approved Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court by the slimmest of margins, despite sexual assault allegations levied against him.
Saturday’s vote came after a dramatic Senate floor announcement of Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine when she declared Friday she would vote to confirm Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.
The Senate vote ended the suspense over a tortuous, election-season battle that had left Kavanaugh’s fate in doubt for nearly a month after the first accusation against him. It assured victory for President Donald Trump’s quest to move the Supreme Court rightward, perhaps for decades, and a satisfying win for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the GOP’s conservative base.
“We will be ill-served in the long run if we abandon the presumption of innocence and fairness, tempting though it may be,” Collins said in remarks that stretched for more than 40 minutes but addressed the sexual-abuse allegations only near the end. “We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy.”
Collins said’s dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week describing Kavanaugh’s alleged 1982 assault on her was “sincere, painful and compelling.” But Collins said witnesses Ford had identified who were interviewed by the FBI last week and included in a report the agency gave lawmakers had failed to corroborate Ford’s claims.
“I do not believe that those charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the court,” Collins said.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said in a written statement, “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.”
Republicans hold a bare 51-49 majority in the Senate.
Vice President Mike Pence was available Saturday in case his tie-breaking vote was needed.
The vote came after Trump ordered an FBI probe into the allegations against Kavanaugh, but the investigation was limited in scope.
Kavanaugh’s path to the court seemed unfettered until mid-September, when Ford accused him of drunkenly sexually assaulting her in a locked bedroom at a 1982 high school gathering. Two other women later emerged with sexual misconduct allegations from the 1980s, all of which Kavanaugh has denied.
In a procedural vote Friday, senators voted 51-49 to limit debate and send the nomination to the full Senate, defeating Democratic efforts to scuttle the nomination with endless delays. That was the day’s first GOP victory in the spellbinding battle that’s been fought against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement and stalwart conservative support for Trump.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation reconciled a cause that has unified and electrified the conservative movement dating to its rebirth as a modern political force led by former President Ronald Reagan. Once Kavanaugh is seated, Chief Justice John Roberts, by no means a moderate, will become the swing vote on the Supreme Court.
The conservative majority will have a sweeping impact on American life, possibly for decades, on issues that are at the epicenter of the nation’s poisoned political debate including LGBT rights, the limits on presidential power, campaign finance, abortion and the role of religion in society.
The Kavanaugh saga however also forced the GOP to come down on the opposite side of the #MeToo movement, that has forced society to give greater credence to women who make allegations about powerful men and is now a significant political force. The decision may have further eroded the GOP’s already shaky status among women voters. Kavanaugh’s elevation could also spike Democratic enthusiasm in midterm elections in just five week — especially in House races. Still, failing to confirm Kavanaugh would have been a disaster for the Republicans and the party’s victory may also energize conservatives.
Deeply coloring the day’s events was a burning resentment by partisans on both sides, on and off the Senate floor.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)