This post is being updated and revised throughout the day to include additional information as news develops.
Brett Kavanaugh is one giant step closer to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. The Senate voted Friday morning to bring an end to debate on his confirmation, the last major procedural hurdle standing in the way of a final vote, which could now happen as soon as Saturday.
The cloture vote was 51–49. In a bit of a surprise, the four wildcards did not split entirely along party lines. Republicans Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Jeff Manchin of West Virginia all voted to proceed. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted against. Manchin and Murkowski were the only senators to break with their party and essentially canceled out each other.
So is this thing over? Not technically and not necessarily—but, it certainly looks that way. Nothing that happened in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s test vote suggests Saturday’s final one will play out differently.
Speaking to reporters in the Capitol, Flake said shortly after voting for cloture that he’d also vote for confirmation “unless something big changed.” The retiring GOP senator, who along with Collins and Murkowski forced their party to allow this week’s limited FBI investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh, added that he doesn’t “see what would” change, and that he expects Donald Trump’s nominee to be confirmed. “I’m glad we had a better process,” he said. “We needed a better process.”
Murkowski, meanwhile, said her “no” vote Friday was the “most difficult” one she’s made in her political career and that she hadn’t made up her mind until she walked on to the Senate floor Friday morning. “I have been wrestling to really try to know what is fair and what is right and the truth is that none of this has been fair,” she told a gaggle of reporters, according to the Washington Post. “This hasn’t been fair to the judge, but I also recognize that we need to have institutions that are viewed as fair and if people who are victims … feel that there is no fairness in our system of government, particularly within our courts, we’ve gone down a path that is not good and right for this country.” She continued: “And so I have been wrestling with whether or not this was about [the] qualifications of a good man or is this bigger than the nominee? And I believe we are dealing with issues right now that are bigger than a nominee.”
Republicans hold a 51–49 advantage in the Senate—with Vice President Mike Pence standing by as the potential tiebreaker—so they could still seat Kavanaugh even if they lose one vote between cloture and confirmation.
It’s theoretically possible that some combination of Collins, Flake, and Manchin could still change their mind between now and the final vote. There’s nothing that requires a senator who votes for cloture to also vote for the final product. The late John McCain, for instance, famously voted to end debate on the GOP’s so-called skinny repeal of Obamacare last year before ultimately killing it with a dramatic, late-night thumbs down. But the difference then was that there was a chance, however small, that McCain could have used the time between cloture and final passage to force Republicans to address specific concerns he had with that legislation. There’s no tweaking Kavanaugh’s confirmation at this point: Either the Senate seats him on the high court or it doesn’t.
Another sign the writing is on the wall: Former Tennessee governor and current Democratic Senate hopeful Phil Bredesen announced his support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation on Friday morning. Bredesen represents one of Democrats’ few chances to flip a GOP seat this fall, and his defection, much like Manchin’s, appears designed to boost his independent cred in a red state as a way to salvage a few political points out of what otherwise looks to be a disaster for his party.
And yet, Collins is keeping the suspense alive, at least for a few more hours. She told reporters before Friday’s vote that, while she’d vote for cloture, she’d also make an announcement this afternoon about her ultimate decision regarding confirmation. Manchin would clearly prefer not to be the deciding vote, so he could conceivably flip his vote if Collins does, leaving the GOP one vote shy of the 50 they need to get Pence involved. And one final small wrinkle: GOP Sen. Steve Daines of Montana says he’ll be busy walking his daughter down the aisle on Saturday, making him unavailable to vote for part of the day. That could force Mitch McConnell to hold the vote open if needed, giving Democrats a few more hours to twist arms. There is, then, still the slightest crack in the door. At this point, though, there’s little reason to suspect the final vote will be significantly different than Friday’s.