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U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) talks to reporters about her "no" vote after a procedural vote in the Senate on the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

A quiet ‘no’ and other dramatic moments leading up to Saturday’s final Kavanaugh vote

Three of four key undecided senators voted Friday to end debate on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, paving the way for a final vote Saturday that if successful could place the judge on the bench as early as next week.

The events on the Senate floor capped a dramatic day across the U.S. Capitol, where opponents and supporters held competing rallies around Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was the sole undecided senator to vote no. Two key Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., voted to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination, giving him the necessary votes to clear the procedural hurdle to Saturday’s final vote.

Hours after the procedural vote, Collins and Manchin confirmed that they would back Kavanaugh in the final confirmation vote Saturday, all but ensuring his ascension to the Supreme Court.

Here are key moments from the Capitol and what to expect from Saturday’s final vote.

A quiet “no”

As the day began Friday, it remained unclear how Murkowski, Collins, Flake and Manchin would vote on the floor. Shortly before the vote to end debate on Kavanaugh was called around 10:30 a.m., senators started arriving and took their seats. Collins, the first of the four undecided senators to be called in the alphabetical roll call, voted yes. Flake soon followed suit. Then all eyes turned to Murkowski. When her name was called, the Alaska Republican stood and said “no,” her voice barely above a whisper. Manchin voted yes minutes later.

Voting no on Kavanaugh was “the most difficult decision” of her Senate career, Murkowski told reporters afterward.

For Murkowski, the vote marked the second time she bucked party leadership on a high-profile issue under President Donald Trump. In July 2017, Murkowski voted against the Senate GOP’s “skinny repeal” plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, joining Collins and Sen. John McCain to sink the bill and dash the party’s promise of undoing Obamacare. But unlike health care, this time Murkowski was alone.

Why Collins backed Kavanaugh

After voting yes Friday morning, Collins came to the Senate floor hours later to announce she would also support Kavanaugh in Saturday’s final confirmation vote. Collins’ decision ended speculation that she might join Murkowski in opposing Kavanaugh in the final vote. In a lengthy speech, Collins criticized Kavanaugh’s confirmation process as “dysfunctional” and equated it to a “gutter-level” political campaign.

Nevertheless, Collins said, the FBI investigation requested by Flake and eventually ordered by the White House last week did not produce enough evidence to confirm whether the sexual misconduct allegations from three women against him were true. “The allegations failed to meet the more-likely-than-not standard,” Collins said.

READ MORE: More than 80 Maine writers, including Stephen King, to Sen. Collins: Vote ‘no’ on Kavanaugh

Collins also defended Kavanaugh’s record as a federal judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that his legal opinions on abortion, presidential power and health care, among other issues, fell within the judicial mainstream. Collins had faced significant pressure from the left ahead of the vote Friday to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. Protesters targeted her and other undecided senators this week as the FBI report came to a close. As she prepared to start her floor speech, protesters in the Senate gallery broke out in a chant, yelling: “Show up for Maine women, vote no!” Collins waited patiently for the protest to end, then stood and explained why she would back Kavanaugh.

Her speech, and Murkowski’s opposition to Kavanaugh, largely overshadowed Flake’s vote. Flake placed himself at the center of confirmation battle last week, when he joined Democrats in calling for an FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh. But after reviewing the FBI’s report on Thursday, Flake said “there was no additional corroborating information” that would prevent him from supporting Kavanaugh. Friday, that’s exactly what he did.

The lone Democratic “yes”

With a quiet thumbs up vote Friday, Manchin became the only Democrat to cross party lines and support moving Kavanaugh’s nomination to Saturday’s final vote. Manchin spent the rest of the floor vote sitting alone, apart from his colleagues on the Democratic side of the Senate chamber.

It was a crucial vote; if Manchin had voted no, Republicans would have needed to bring in Vice President Mike Pence to break a 50-50 split. Manchin’s support gave Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., an extra cushion in a vote that was always going to be very close.

Manchin later said he had not made up his mind until Friday morning, after he finished reading the FBI report. In a statement later in the day, Manchin said he would vote for Kavanaugh in the final roll call.

“I have reservations about this vote given the serious accusations against Judge Kavanaugh,” Manchin said in the statement. He also took issue with Kavanaugh’s temperament at his hearing last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Manchin said he in the end he concluded that Kavanaugh was a “qualified jurist.”

Manchin is the only vulnerable Senate Democrat seeking re-election this year who supported Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. The others, including Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, all voted no.

What to expect from the final vote

The dramatic cloture vote Friday sucked much of the suspense out of the actual final vote, which is slated for Saturday afternoon or early evening. Barring an unlikely last-minute reversal from at least two senators who voted “yes” Friday to end the debate, Kavanaugh will be confirmed. He could then be sworn in as an associate justice as early as next week.

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