A week ago, four senators made a dramatic move to delay Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by forcing a new FBI report on the sexual assault allegations against him and opening the door to voting him down depending on the outcome of the report.
But by Friday, those allegations only resulted in one "no" vote against him, and the delay only seemed to give Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, time to write a dramatic, career-defining speech that tore into Democrats for ever raising any of the allegations in the first place.
Collins and her colleagues, Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, each arrived at their answers in different ways. Here's how they got there.
The Republican swing vote was hailed as a hero for withholding his support for Kavanaugh on the Senate floor and forcing another FBI report on the nominee. But Flake made it clear even a week ago that he was more angry at the process than he was at Kavanaugh.
“I’m conservative,” Flake said a few days before the vote. “I’d love to see Brett Kavanaugh confirmed.”
But to get there, he wanted to end the rushed process that he said was ripping the country apart. Democrats demanded an additional FBI probe, and Flake used his leverage to win a weeklong probe into two sexual misconduct allegations made against Kavanaugh and made it clear to GOP leaders he wouldn't be comfortable without that step.
But Flake wasn’t really looking for more incriminating information about Kavanaugh, and when the report came out, he was relatively quiet as he made his announcement that he would be a "yes."
“There are people out there that need to know we’ve taken every measure that we can to makes sure this process is worthy of this institution,” Flake said.
Once the probe ended without any firsthand corroboration of the charges against Kavanaugh, Flake followed through with his plan to vote for Kavanaugh.
“I’m glad we had a better process,” Flake said Friday as he left the Capitol. “We needed a better process.”
This Democrat who has worked with President Trump and Senate Republicans is facing a re-election battle that makes voting against Brett Kavanaugh akin to political suicide. For that reason, Manchin was always a likely "yes" vote for Kavanaugh, as long as he wasn't the vote that decided the nominee's fate.
Trump won West Virginia by 42 points and is actively campaigning for Manchin’s GOP opponent, Patrick Morrisey. West Virginia loves Trump and has provided the president some of the strongest approval ratings in the country, recent polling shows.
Manchin had long signaled he was leaning toward a “yes” vote, telling reporters he believed Kavanaugh to be well-qualified for the job.
He told reporters his main concern was preserving Obamacare’s provision requiring insurers to accept people with pre-existing conditions. Hundreds of thousands of West Virginians have pre-existing conditions that could keep them from obtaining health insurance, Manchin said.
“With respect to any cases that may come before him impacting the 800,000 West Virginians with pre-existing conditions, Judge Kavanaugh assured me personally that he would consider the human impacts and approach any decision with surgical precision to avoid unintended consequences,” Manchin said Friday. “That is why I voted to confirm Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to serve on the Supreme Court, because I believe he will rule in a manner that is consistent with our Constitution.”
His meetings with Kavanaugh and Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing appeared to assure him if Obamacare reaches the Supreme Court again, he would not rule against that protection.
The recent sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh gave Manchin pause, but the FBI report delivered Thursday that contained no firsthand corroboration of the claims provided Manchin the cover he needed to vote "yes."
Collins was thought to be a "yes" vote, but kept her intentions quiet until late Friday, when she made it clear she was irked by efforts to tar Kavanaugh as a sexual predator without any evidence.
After the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms cleared the gallery of shouting protesters, Collins took to the Senate floor to deliver what some said was a historic speech backing Kavanaugh’s confirmation and ripping his Democratic opponents. The first words out of her mouth targeted those opponents, who have poured hundreds of thousand of dollars into Maine advertisements aimed at convincing her to reject Kavanaugh.
“Today, we have come to the conclusion of a confirmation process that has become so dysfunctional, it looks more like a caricature of a gutter-level political campaign than a solemn occasion,” Collins said.
In recent days, protesters swarmed Collins’ office and her home. By the time the Senate convened this week, Collins required a police escort to protect her from angry anti-Kavanaugh activists.
Collins had for weeks been signaling her likely support of Kavanaugh, telling reporters that she believes he’ll uphold Roe v. Wade, the 1973 law legalizing abortion.
In the end, Collins said she decided to back Kavanaugh because of his qualifications and his answers to questions provided during hours of conversation. Kavanaugh’s responses, she said, assured her he would not overturn key Obamacare protections or abortion rights. Nor would he necessarily work to protect President Trump from legal jeopardy.
Collins also rejected the sexual assault allegations leveled against Kavanaugh, including the one deemed most credible from Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her at a high school party 36 years ago.
“Fairness would dictate that the claims at least should meet a threshold of more-likely-than-not as our standard,” Collins said, outlining the gaps in Ford’s story.
“The facts presented do not mean that Professor Ford was not sexually assaulted that night or some other time. But they do lead me to conclude that the allegations failed to meet the more-likely-than-not standard," she said. "Therefore, I do not believe these charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the court.”
Her decision is politically risky, as Collins is backed by Democrats and Republicans alike in Maine, a swing state.
But she faced potential political repercussions with a “no” vote too. If she runs for another term in 2020, her opposition to Kavanaugh would have cost her Republican support and perhaps encourage a serious primary challenger.
This Alaskan seemed in the past week to be the most likely to vote against Kavanaugh, but not just because she's a woman concerned about possible sexual assault.
Murkowski had been under intense pressure by native Alaskan groups who opposed Kavanaugh on at least a half-dozen issues, including climate change, voting rights, and environmental protection. Native Alaskans opposed Kavanaugh based on a 1999 Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he questioned whether Native Hawaiians should be afforded privileges akin to Native Americans.
Alaska’s governor and lieutenant governor, an Independent and a Democrat, announced their opposition to Kavanaugh on Sept. 20, before the sexual misconduct allegations against the nominee surfaced.
But the sexual misconduct claims, and President Trump’s public mocking of Ford’s claim, appear to have been the tipping point for Murkowski.
Murkowski was clearly angered when reporters asked her to respond to Trump’s Mississippi campaign rally performance, in which he mocked the gaps in Ford’s memory of her claim that Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her while the two were in high school.
“I thought the president’s comments yesterday mocking Dr. Ford were wholly inappropriate and, in my view, unacceptable,” Murkowski said as she walked through the Capitol the next day.
On Friday, she called Kavanaugh a good man, but not the right one for the high court in the #MeToo era.
“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, people who feel that there is no fairness in our system of government, particularly in our courts, then you’ve gone down a path that is not good and right for this country,” Murkowski said. “And so, I have been wrestling with whether or not this was about qualifications of a good man or is this bigger than the nomination."
"And I believe we’re dealing with issues right now that are bigger than the nominee and how we ensure fairness and how our legislative and judicial branch can continue to be respected," she said.