WASHINGTON – With Vice President Mike Pence presiding in the long-shot case his tie-breaking vote was needed, the Senate on Saturday started voting on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation at 3:43 p.m. Eastern time.
The outcome was known on Friday, when two key senators, Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat, said they would vote for Kavanaugh. With no vote to spare, Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48.
Kavanaugh was sworn in as an associate justice on Saturday by Chief Justice John Roberts in a private ceremony at the Supreme Court.
He was elevated from the lifetime appointment he already held as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Kavanaugh is President Donald Trump’s second Supreme Court appointee — Neil Gorsuch was the first — and locks in for now a 5-4 conservative majority.
As the roll call was about to begin on Saturday, the senators, most already in the chamber, sat somberly in their seats.
Usually during a vote, the senators mill around chitchatting. They come and go. They have conversations around the well of the Senate.
Not on this somber Saturday.
A grim Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Democratic leader, sat in a first row seat, his hands clasped most of the time. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., in a rear row, looked equally gloomy. Both strongly opposed Kavanaugh.
The public seats in the gallery were filled and as soon as the clerk was calling the roll, a protester yelled, “I will not consent.” Others shouted similar sentiments.
As the plainclothes officers hustled the protesters out, a few more waves replaced them, until their ranks were depleted. One woman yelled, “I am a survivor of sexual assault” and shouts of “shame, shame” could be heard coming from the hallway.
The sexual abuse allegations against Kavanaugh did not derail his confirmation.
Kavanaugh denied accusations of attempted rape and exposing himself to women while in high school and college, throwing his confirmation process into an acrimonious overtime in this #MeToo era.
What seems to have gotten lost in this hyper-partisan atmosphere is that Democrats knew that the election of a Republican president meant the nomination of conservatives for judges and justices.
Gorsuch was confirmed with 54 votes and comparatively little rancor.
Most Democrats voted no and, for the most part, moved on.
Kavanaugh was controversial before the sexual assault allegations surfaced, because of his opinions, his work with Ken Starr on Bill Clinton’s impeachment and his work in President George W. Bush’s White House. He was seem as just too partisan.
It didn’t have to be this way.
There are plenty of blue-chip conservative judges from Ivy League and other top law schools who could be confirmed without driving the nation further apart.
Just before the count was announced, Manchin, locked in a tight reelection race, walked over to the GOP side of the chamber and embraced Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who was sitting next to Collins. Murkowski was the only Republican to oppose Kavanaugh, voting present on the final roll call.
Pence gaveled in Kavanaugh as the ninth justice to the Supreme Court at about 4 p.m. Eastern.
McConnell squishy on the Merrick Garland precedent
Kavanaugh replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired.
Trump had the other vacancy to fill because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blocked former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, from even getting a hearing, on the pretext that he was selected during a presidential election year.
Garland was raised in Lincolnwood and graduated from Niles West High School.
During a press conference after the vote, McConnell was asked if he would hold to the Garland standard.
McConnell would not pledge to not fill the seat if a vacancy occurred under Trump in a presidential election year.
It all depends on who controls the Senate, McConnell said.
“We’ll see what it looks like in 2020.”
What Durbin and Duckworth said
Both Illinois senators spoke strongly against Kavanaugh from the Senate floor.
Durbin raised the question of which Kavanaugh was being confirmed.
“Will he be the man who raged at the Clintons and promised revenge for his ordeal, or the man who impressed Sen. Collins?
“Will he be a justice ever grateful to Trump who nominated him, or a justice who honors the rule of law more than any political leader or political party?”
Duckworth delivered her speech late Friday blistering Republicans for not allowing a more in-depth FBI investigation of allegations against Kavanaugh.
Said Duckworth, “Some on the other side of the aisle have prioritized partisan tribalism over justice, over truth.”
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