By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The eyes of the polarized nation are riveted on three Republican and one Democratic senator who aren’t saying, so far, whether they are ayes or nays on the politically fateful question of whether Brett Kavanaugh should sit on the Supreme Court.
One Democratic senator facing a tough re-election in North Dakota, a state President Donald Trump won handily in 2016, announced she’s against Kavanaugh. Suspense remains, however, around the other undecideds.
They’ll have to go public with their decisions soon. Even before the FBI had delivered its report on the allegations against Trump’s nominee, Senate Republican leaders set the chamber barreling toward an up-or-down vote sometime this weekend. But first, these five are reading the FBI report as they navigate the political storm that Kavanaugh’s nomination has created.
Notably, some could vote yes — and also, no — on Kavanaugh-related questions under the Senate’s always-interesting rules and traditions.
A look at the five and what to watch:
THE STATE OF THINGS
The White House at 2:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday delivered the FBI file to the Senate that contains an updated background check on Kavanaugh, accused by Christine Blasey Ford of sexually assaulting her while the two were in high school. Kavanaugh strongly denies the allegations and says he has never sexually assaulted anyone.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said on CNN that the FBI reached out to 10 people and interviewed nine. Democrats said that’s too limited given the allegations by Ford and Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate, Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh flashed his genitals in her face.
All 100 senators, split in the GOP’s favor 51-49, have access to one copy of the file in a secure room, to prevent leaks of confidential information under the Privacy Act, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee. That’s created a backup of senators in a Capitol complex already tense over protests, beefed-up security and campaign-season politics.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D. Ill., told reporters on Thursday that time slots for reading the FBI file are so full that senators are being told they might have to wait until Friday to read the report.
That could back up the review into the first vote, on whether to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has set Friday for the vote on whether the Senate agrees to hold a final confirmation vote as soon as Saturday.
AYE AND/OR NAY
There are two votes on Kavanaugh, and senators can vote differently for each question.
First, on Friday, senators will vote on whether the full Senate should hold a final confirmation vote. That initial vote is called “cloture,” which is Senate jargon for bringing debate to a close. Agreement by a majority of the 100 senators would advance Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Second, as soon as Saturday, senators will take a final vote on whether to confirm Kavanaugh to a lifetime seat on the high court — or not. Confirmation requires a majority of the 100-member chamber.
Usually, the two votes are the same for every senator.
But on Kavanaugh, it’s possible a senator who votes yes on the first question could vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. That strategy would give waverers one last day to decide how they’ll vote.
COLLINS AND MURKOWSKI
They’ve been followed through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and dogged by protesters and reporters. They’re being protected by U.S. Capitol Police. And they’re mum about how they’ll vote on Kavanaugh.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have been at the center of the Kavanaugh maelstrom for months, since they expressed concerns over Kavanaugh’s anti-abortion views. Neither is up for re-election this year. Both said they wanted the FBI investigation, and both denounced Trump’s mockery of Ford this week in Mississippi. And neither is saying how she’ll vote on Kavanaugh.
On Thursday, Collins called the FBI investigation, “very thorough.”
It’s not clear they’ll make the same choice, in part because their states are not politically aligned.
Democrat Hillary Clinton won Collins’s state by about 3 percentage points.
But Trump won Murkowski’s state by nearly 15 percentage points.
Sen. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who is retiring, said he intends to vote to confirm Kavanaugh. But hours after issuing that statement last week — during which two protesters cornered him in an elevator on live television — he attached a condition. He’ll vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation as long as there is an FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations. A key swing vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee split 11-10 as well as in the closely divided Senate, Flake got something resembling his wish: Republicans agreed to a weeklong pause in the drive toward a confirmation vote, while the FBI investigated “credible allegations” against Kavanaugh.
Flake said the FBI investigation could inject the highly partisan process with credibility. On Thursday, he told CNN that he saw no corroboration of the allegations against Kavanaugh in the report.
Democrat Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota finally ended the suspense over her vote, announcing Thursday she was a “no” on confirmation.
But her decision comes at peril. Heitkamp is in a tough re-election battle in a state Trump by almost 36 percentage points. Trump cast her as a “liberal Democrat” during a rally in Fargo.
“You need a senator who doesn’t just talk like they’re from North Dakota but votes like they’re from North Dakota,” Trump said at the June event.
On Kavanaugh, Heitkamp told WDAY, a TV station in Fargo, “the process has been bad, but at the end of the day you have to make a decision and I’ve made that decision.”
“I will be voting no on Judge Kavanaugh,” she said.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who also is on the ballot, has said he’s awaiting the FBI report to make a decision on Kavanaugh.
Trump won his state by about 43 percentage points.
To those who might not support him based on how he votes on Kavanaugh, Manchin offered an apology.
“I’m sorry you’re a one-issue voter,” he told WVNews this week.
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