FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh arrives for his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert/File Photo.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Brett Kavanaugh, the embattled U.S. Supreme Court nominee put forward by President Donald Trump, looked likely to win final Senate confirmation on Saturday, weathering sexual misconduct allegations and attacks on his character and temperament.
After weeks of intense debate that has gripped the nation, the conservative appeals court judge on Friday won vows of support from two centrist senators, leaving no clear path in the Senate for Kavanaugh’s opponents to block him.
He barely survived a procedural test on Friday, when senators voted 51-49 to advance his nomination to a final vote, which is expected to occur around 5 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Saturday.
Confirmation of Kavanaugh would give Trump a clear win in his drive to cement conservative dominance of the high court, a bitter outcome for Democrats who could not get their own liberal nominee confirmed due to Republican delaying tactics in 2016.
Republicans held open an empty seat that year, which Trump filled in 2017 with conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who Kavanaugh will replace, retired this year after decades of being a swing vote on the court.
With divisive cases on abortion rights, immigration, transgender rights and business regulation headed for the court, Kavanaugh likely would give conservatives the upper hand.
His confirmation would also allow Trump to hit the campaign trail ahead of the Nov. 6 elections bragging that he has kept his 2016 promise to push the American judiciary rightward.
“I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh,” Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine declared on the Senate floor on Friday.
She praised his judicial record and argued there was no corroboration of sexual assault charges made against him by psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford. Two other women also accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct decades ago. Kavanaugh has denied all the allegations.
Moments after Collins pledged to back Kavanaugh, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, in a tough race for re-election in West Virginia where Trump is popular, also declared his support.
Senate Republicans, except for Lisa Murkowski, have stood by him in a move that could resonate, particularly with women voters, in the Nov. 6 elections to determine control of the Senate and House of Representatives.
Even before the lurid sexual assault charges surfaced, Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate were fighting hard to stop Kavanaugh, saying his conservative judicial philosophy could result in rolling back abortion rights, gay rights and protections for immigrants. They also challenged the veracity of some of his Judiciary Committee testimony.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday said Kavanaugh represents “a hard-right, conservative jurisprudence, far, far away from what average Americans believe.”
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell led the nominee’s defense, calling him “one of the most impressive, stunningly qualified nominees in our nation’s history” and accusing Democrats of a “smear” campaign.