Divided Senate confirms Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination

The Senate voted to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh as the Supreme Court’s 114th justice on Saturday by one of the narrowest margins in the institution’s history, as police stood guard and protesters’ shouts of “shame, shame” echoed through the Senate chamber.

The 50-t0-48 vote capped a brutal confirmation fight that underscored how deeply polarized the nation has become under President Trump, who has now successfully placed two justices on the nation’s highest court, cementing a conservative majority.

With Vice President Pence presiding, senators sat in their chairs and rose to cast their votes, repeatedly interrupted by protesters in the visitors’ gallery who yelled out and were removed by Capitol Police. The Supreme Court announced Kavanaugh would be sworn in later Saturday.

Trump nominated Kavanaugh in July to succeed retired justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a move that triggered an intense partisan battle over the court’s future well before allegations of decades-old sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh surfaced, delaying a confirmation vote by a week to allow for a limited FBI investigation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in an interview with The Washington Post before the vote, expressed his confidence in Kavanaugh’s denials of allegations of sexual assaults and decried the “mob” of protesters who had descended on the Senate.

“I never thought Judge Kavanaugh would withdraw,” McConnell said. “When your integrity is attacked like his was, a withdrawal was certainly no solution to that, so we were in the fight to the finish.” 

Before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned that his colleagues were “about to elevate a nominee who doesn’t belong on the nation’s highest bench.”

Schumer suggested several reasons, including Kavanaugh’s temperament at a high-profile hearing last week at which faced off with his initial accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, and exchanged sharp words with several Democrats on the Judiciary Committee.

“To Americans, to so many millions who are outraged by what happened here, there’s one answer: Vote,” Schumer said.

The acrimonious battle over Kavanaugh’s confirmation is certain to influence next month’s midterms, pitting energized female voters angered by the treatment of Kavanaugh’s accusers against conservatives who see him as a man wrongly accused.

In The Post interview, McConnell called the opposition to Kavanaugh and the protests a “great political gift” to the GOP ahead of the elections, where control of both the House and Senate are at stake.

Saturday’s vote broke largely along party lines, with one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, supporting Kavanaugh, and one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, opposing his nomination.

Murkowski asked that she be recorded “present” in a courtesy to Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who missed the vote due to his daughter’s wedding. That ensured the same two-vote margin that would have resulted had Daines been there to vote.

The margin was the narrowest for a confirmed Supreme Court justice since 1881, when the Senate confirmed Stanley Matthews, a nominee of President James A. Garfield.

In a brief interview with The Washington Post on Saturday, Trump predicted that Murkowski “will never recover” politically for not supporting Kavanaugh as he celebrated his nominee’s ascension to the Supreme Court.

Trump forecasted Murkowski’s defeat in a Republican primary should she run for reelection in 2022. “I think the people from Alaska will never forgive her for what she did,” he said.

In 2010, Murkowski lost the GOP primary but won as a write-in candidate.

Trump said the one-week delay in voting on Kavanaugh to allow for an FBI background investigation into sexual assault allegations “turned out to be a great thing, a blessing in disguise.”

“He’s going in looking very good,” Trump said of Kavanaugh, speaking to reporters as he left the White House. He predicted Kavanaugh would be “a great justice of the Supreme Court.”

Kavanaugh’s fate remained unclear until Friday, when three Republicans and one Democrat became the last to announce how they would vote.

After the remaining votes fell into place, Democrats, in a show of defiance, spent all night making impassioned floor speeches against the nomination and continued into Saturday. They voiced fears about how Kavanaugh would rule on an array of issues, including abortion rights and executive power, and highlighted the allegations of sexual assault that roiled his confirmation process for the past three weeks.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said that by confirming Kavanaugh, the Senate would be sending a deeply troubling message both to the nation’s girls and women — “your experiences don’t matter” — but also to its boys and men.

“They can grab women without their consent and brag about it,” Murray said. “They can sexually assault women, laugh about it. And they’re probably going to be fine. They can even grow up to be president of the United States or a justice on the Supreme Court.”

Murray was first elected to the Senate in 1992, in the wake of the chamber’s 52-to-48 vote to put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, the last time issues of gender were so starkly highlighted in a confirmation process. Kavanaugh will join a nine-member court that includes Thomas, who was accused of sexual harassment by law professor Anita Hill.

As senators spoke in the chamber on Saturday, a throng of protesters who were predominantly women first gathered outside the Supreme Court, chanting “yes means yes, no means no, Kavanaugh has got to go.” Several women told stories to the crowd of their own experiences with sexual assault.

As the vote drew nearer Saturday afternoon, the protesters moved to the Capitol, with dozens sitting on the building’s center steps. Many wore T-shirts with the words, “November is coming.” Dozens were arrested, raising their fists as police escorted them away, and some broke through police barricades.

There were chants of “the whole world is watching” and “vote them out” and signs that included “Kava Nope” and “We’ll remember in November.”

Many were standing outside the Capitol in handcuffs as the confirmation vote was taken.

Ford, Kavanaugh’s initial accuser, alleged that he sexually assaulted her at a high school gathering in suburban Maryland in the early 1980s. Two other women came forward to accuse Kavanaugh of misconduct while in high school and college.

Following a hearing that included testimony from both Ford and Kavanaugh, the confirmation vote was delayed a week to allow the FBI to conduct a limited investigation into the allegations of Ford and a second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, who alleged Kavanaugh exposed himself while in college. Republicans said the FBI report showed no corroboration of the allegations and exonerated Kavanaugh, while Democrats argued it was too limited in scope to be enlightening.

In a reminder that Saturday’s vote might not be the last word on the accusations, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement that she would file of Freedom of Information Act request “so that the public can see the FBI report, transcripts of the underlying interviews, instructions sent to the FBI from the White House, and any communications to the FBI from Senate Republicans regarding the scope of the investigation.”

If the Democrats take over the House next year, they will also gain new powers to investigate the Kavanaugh allegations.

Several Republicans who spoke on the Senate floor Saturday argued that the allegations against Kavanaugh simply didn’t hold up.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) noted he had previously served as attorney general in his state and said he strongly believes those who commit sexual assault should be punished. But he said he also believes in the presumption of innocence.

“We do not want a system of guilty until proven innocent in America,” he said.

In a new statement on a GoFundMe page, Ford said she believed and still believes “that it was my civic duty to come forward, but this is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, much harder even than I thought it would be.”

On Saturday, Ramirez issued a statement saying that witnesses who could have corroborated her allegations were not interviewed by the FBI.

“Thirty-five years ago, the other students in the room chose to laugh and look the other way as sexual violence was perpetrated on me by Brett Kavanaugh,” she said. “As I watch many of the Senators speak and vote on the floor of the Senate I feel like I’m right back at Yale where half the room is laughing and looking the other way. Only this time, instead of drunk college kids, it is US Senators who are deliberately ignoring his behavior.”

During remarks before Saturday’s vote, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), the No. 3 Republican in the chamber, defended the way the Senate had treated Ford.

“We treated her the same way we would want our wives or daughters to be treated,” he said.

Kavanaugh has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 2006 and previously worked in George W. Bush’s White House. He served as a clerk to Kennedy in the early 1990s alongside Neil M. Gorsuch, Trump’s first nominee to the Supreme Court.

The Post reported Saturday that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has received more than a dozen judicial misconduct complaints against Kavanaugh in recent weeks but has chosen for the time being not to refer them to a judicial panel for investigation.

A judge on his appeals court sent a string of complaints to Roberts starting three weeks ago, according to four people familiar with the matter.

That judge, Karen LeCraft Henderson, had dismissed other complaints against Kavanaugh as frivolous, but she concluded that some were substantive enough that they should not be handled by Kavanaugh’s fellow judges in the D.C. Circuit.

In a statement Saturday, Henderson acknowledged the complaints and said they centered on statements Kavanaugh made during his Senate confirmation hearings.

Mike DeBonis, Paul Kane, Philip Rucker and Gabriel Pogrund and Carol Leonnig in Washington and Ezra Austin in Princeton, N.J., contributed to this report.

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