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Do Republicans Have the Votes to Confirm Kavanaugh?

The fate of Brett Kavanaugh will likely come down to Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski

Susan Collins

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) answers questions from reporters on allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

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Christine Blasey Ford will speak about her sexual assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Less than 24 hours later, the committee will vote on whether to endorse Kavanaugh, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has told senators to stick around Washington, D.C., over the weekend so they can work to ram through a confirmation vote early next week. But, with new developments in the story seemingly every day, do Republicans have the votes necessary to confirm President Trump’s latest pick to sit on the Supreme Court?

Republicans hold 51 Senate seats. Democrats hold 49. This means that, assuming every Democratic senator votes against Kavanaugh, two Republicans would need to vote “no” for the nomination to fail (Vice President Pence would break a potential 50-50 tie). Heading into Thursday’s testimony, the GOP appears to be a few senators short.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who joined the Senate earlier this month following John McCain’s death, has also declined to commit to voting in favor of Kavanaugh until after Thursday’s hearings. So, too, has Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), “I want to see what happens in the hearing on Thursday,” Rubio said this week when asked by Politico whether he was still a “yes” vote. “I can only vote based on the information before me.”

Barring an unforeseen development, only four of the Republican senators yet to commit are seen as legitimate threats to Kavanaugh’s confirmation: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

Corker seems to be leaning toward voting to confirm Kavanaugh. “I’ve been impressed with all that I’ve heard about him and again it’s unfortunate,” Corker said last week after Ford’s allegation surfaced. “I mean, I can’t imagine the horror of being accused of something like this.” The accusation from Deborah Ramirez didn’t appear to change his thinking. “I read the New Yorker article. It’s pretty thin,” he said this week. “No one else remembered any of it. This is really getting kind of carried away, it’s feeling more like a circus. But again, I did feel like this first accuser should be heard.” Though saying Ford deserves to be heard is more than many of his colleagues have been able to manage, it appears as though Corker’s mind is all but made up. “I think the longer this hangs out there, the more problematic that it is,” he said. “As soon as the hearing is over, I plan to make known what I’m going to do, but again, I go into it with positive feelings about [Kavanaugh].”

Corker was seen as a potential “no” vote primarily because he will not be seeking reelection in November. Nor will Flake, who could affect whether the Senate Judiciary Committee votes to endorse Kavanaugh on Friday. The senator from Arizona has largely remained silent on the nominee since the allegations have emerged, but he’s already been a thorn in the side of Republican leaders when it comes to confirming federal judges. Flake has also opposed President Trump more vociferously than perhaps any other sitting Republican senator, and was very close with John McCain, who famously voted down Trump’s Affordable Care Act repeal last year, and did so in dramatic fashion. Such a gesture could be in play for Flake come Thursday.

The two biggest threats to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, however, are Collins and Murkowski, who were considered potential roadblocks even before the sexual assault allegations surfaced. Both senators support abortion rights, and concern swelled that Kavanaugh could vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Those concerns seem to have largely been assuaged. “How he articulated how it had been reinforced in so many different steps, I certainly have greater confidence with the way that he portrayed to me how he views Roe,” Murkowski said during an interview on Monday, according to the New York Times. “I do not believe he’s going to repeal Roe v. Wade,” Collins said on Showtime’s The Circus.

Neither appear to be taking the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh lightly, especially Murkowski. “We are now in a place where it’s not about whether or not Judge Kavanaugh is qualified,” she said on Monday. “It is about whether or not a woman who has been a victim at some point in her life is to be believed.” She’s also called the timeline that is being imposed by McConnell and other Republican leaders “arbitrary.” On Tuesday, she seemed to imply that the FBI should investigate the accusations.

“It’s very important to take allegations of those who have come forward, to take them seriously and I think we need to go into this hearing with the view that we will listen to Dr. Ford’s story, we will listen to Judge Kavanaugh’s response and then we will weigh what we have heard,” Murkowski told reporters Tuesday. “I think it’s important to have the hearing, to get this out on the record and then to move on from there.”

Collins has expressed similar concern, although she hasn’t gone so far as to suggest an FBI investigation. After the accusation from Ramirez was published on Sunday, Collins argued she should be allowed to speak under oath to the judiciary committee. “I believe that the committee investigators should reach out to Deborah Ramirez to question her under oath about what she is alleging happened,” she told reporters. Many believe that as Collins goes, Murkowski will go, as well, and so it is with the senator from Maine on whose shoulders the heaviest burden rests. Though she has expressed a need to hear from Ford on Thursday, many are concerned her belief Kavanaugh won’t overturn Roe is a way to rationalize a yes vote. Otherwise, it’s hard for many to believe why Collins would be so willing to take his word for it.

McConnell is confident he does indeed have the votes to put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, regardless of how Thursday’s testimony unfolds. But if Republican senators are to be talking at their word — which, admittedly, is a big “if” — Kavanaugh is going to need to come across as more trustworthy than Ford when they both testify under oath. “I have not made a decision,” Collins said on Tuesday. “Obviously the hearing Thursday is an important one.”

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