Kavanaugh vote: Hours before a key test, Grassley says he doesn't know how it will go

Three hours before a crucial vote on Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said Friday that he doesn’t know which way it might go.

“As of now, I don’t really know, and I don’t know if anyone else does,” Grassley, who presided over Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, said during an appearance on “Fox & Friends” on Fox News.

A key procedural vote is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on President Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh, who has faced accusations of sexual misconduct while in high school and college. If the nomination moves forward, Republican leaders hope for a final confirmation vote this weekend.

As of late Thursday, other Republican leaders wee expressing confidence in their ability to round up the votes needed to confirm Kavanaugh.

All eyes remain on three Republican senators who have yet to announce how’ll they vote: Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Flake and Collins both signaled satisfaction Thursday with an FBI report on the allegations against Kavanaugh that was based on interviews with nine people.

Nearly all Democrats have united in opposition against Kavanaugh, including some hailing from conservative states who are in tight reelection races this year.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) announced on Thursday that she would reject Kavanaugh’s nomination, leaving Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) as the only Democrat yet to announce his position. 

During a separate interview on Fox on Friday morning, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway called Manchin the “wild card.”

Conway argued that Manchin is from “a state where the vast majority of the people who voted him into office have said they also want Judge Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court.”

“Do you listen to the will of your voters back at home or do you listen to the leaders of a Democratic Party who have been so dishonest and duplicitous in this entire process?” she asked, echoing the arguments of other Republicans pressing him to support Kavanaugh.

With their narrow margin in the Senate, Republicans can only afford to lose one vote if all Democrats vote against Kavanaugh. Under that scenario, Vice President Pence would be called upon to break a tie.

The jockeying for final votes to confirm Kavanaugh is playing out as the senators review the highly anticipated report from the FBI investigating two allegations of decades-old sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh.

Republicans argued that it exonerated Kavanaugh of any wrongdoing, giving senators more confidence in voting to confirm him. But Democrats disputed the Republicans’ assertions, especially because, they argued, the scope of the investigation was too limited. 

The 46-page FBI report cannot be released publicly, and senators are barred from talking about it in detail. All day Thursday and beginning Friday morning, senators were shuffling in and out of a secure facility at the Capitol to read through the report, which included copies of interviews with key witnesses and stacks of material gleaned from an FBI tip line. 

The FBI investigated the allegation brought by Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor in California who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a suburban Maryland home when they were teenagers.

Agents also looked into the accusation brought by Deborah Ramirez that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they were students at Yale University. Kavanaugh adamantly denies both accusations. 

The allegations of a third accuser, Julie Swetnick, were not a focus of the investigation. Swetnick, who is represented by celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti, alleges that Kavanaugh was physically abusive toward girls in high school and was at a house party in 1982 where she says she was the victim of a gang rape.

The FBI reached out to 10 witnesses, although nine were ultimately interviewed, according to senators and the White House. But lawyers for both Ford and Ramirez have said they offered the FBI numerous other witnesses who could potentially corroborate the women’s claims. 

After Friday’s procedural vote, Senate Republicans hope to take a final vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation as early as Saturday.

Potentially complicating matters for Republicans is that Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) announced Thursday he plans to be at his daughter’s wedding back home on Saturday.

But Daines’s vote will not be needed Saturday unless one Republican defects and Democrats stay unified against Kavanaugh. In that case, a Saturday evening session could be held open for hours into Sunday so Daines, who supports Kavanaugh, could return to Washington after the wedding and cast his vote.

In Boca Raton, Fla., retired justice John Paul Stevens, a Republican, raised concerns on Thursday about Kavanaugh’s temperament, according to the Palm Beach Post.

“I thought [Kavanaugh] had the qualifications for the Supreme Court should he be selected,” Stevens said. “I’ve changed my views for reasons that have no relationship to his intellectual ability. . . . I feel his performance in the hearings ultimately changed my mind.”

Kavanaugh addressed the issue in an extraordinary op-ed in the Wall Street Journal published Thursday night, acknowledging that he was “very emotional” during his testimony and “I said a few things I should not have said.”

“Going forward, you can count on me to be the same kind of judge and person I have been for my entire 28-year legal career: hardworking, even-keeled, open-minded, independent and dedicated to the Constitution and the public good,” Kavanaugh wrote.

Trump nominated Kavanaugh in July to succeed retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy , a move that triggered an intense partisan battle over the court’s future that began long before the accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced.

Kavanaugh, 53, who lives in the Maryland suburbs, is on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and worked in George W. Bush’s White House before moving to the federal bench. He served as a clerk to Kennedy in the early 1990s alongside Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, whom Trump nominated for the Supreme Court last year.

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