On Friday morning, as he was walking into the secure reading room where the FBI’s supplemental background check on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was being kept, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin told reporters he might not be sure how he would vote on Kavanaugh until he walked onto the Senate floor. Perhaps that was because he wouldn’t know how Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and Maine Sen. Susan Collins would vote until he reached the floor.
Manchin was in the Senate chamber when the procedural vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination was about to begin, but disappeared when the roll call started. The three other must-watch votes didn’t go anywhere. Collins and Murkowski sat next to each other and appeared to be in good spirits, whispering to each other and smiling.
Collins, an “aye,” went first. This was no surprise—her team had announced that she would vote to advance the nomination shortly before she walked on the floor. She would give a speech announcing her final vote later. Flake, too, delivered his “aye” on the first reading of the roll call.
When the clerk read Manchin’s name the first time, though, he was nowhere to be heard.
Murkowski’s name came up shortly after Manchin’s. She slowly rose up and said, in the quietest voice … what did she say? The press gallery, for which seats needed to be reserved to watch this vote, stirred, as few reporters were certain of what they’d heard. It was eventually confirmed that she had, in fact, said “no,” and the commotion died down. Murkowski, a few minutes after casting what she would call the most difficult vote of her tenure, resumed smiling and talking to Collins.
With Flake and Collins already on the record, Republicans had 50 votes to end debate. The outcome was determined. What a great time, then, for the West Virginia senator to return to his seat in the chamber. He wouldn’t have to cast the deciding vote. Unlike Sens. Joe Donnelly, Jon Tester, Claire McCaskill, and Heidi Heitkamp, who all swallowed extremely difficult “no” votes, Manchin—who’s up comfortably in his race—took the free “aye,” delivering a hearty thumbs-up to the clerk.
He was mostly left alone afterward. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine went over to talk to him briefly, as did one of his aides. Otherwise, he just fiddled with his phone until the 51–49 vote was concluded, and he quickly left the chamber.
When I asked him in the basement if he would also be an “aye” on the final vote, he said that his office would have a statement later.
Would he have to wait for Collins to go first on that one, too?
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