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Kavanaugh cruises toward confirmation, bolstered by Collins and Manchin

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced that they would vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh Friday, virtually ensuring his confirmation Saturday. This follows weeks of heated hearings along with a reopened FBI investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor talk with Judy Woodruff about the political implications.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is tonight on his way to winning the showdown over his confirmation. He picked up crucial support in the past few hours after a day of high drama in the United States Senate.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A dramatic scene, with senators in their seats voting one by one on whether to move forward with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

  • Woman:

    Ms. Murkowski.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    For Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, it was a quiet no.

    The lone Republican no vote said she made up her mind as she walked onto the Senate floor.

  • Sen. Lisa  Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    The truth is that none of this has been fair. I believe he's a good man. It just may be that, in my view, he is not the right man for the court at this time.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Murkowski was one of four key questionable votes when the day started. Republicans needed two of those four to vote yes on the procedural motion. They got three, Republicans Jeff Flake and Susan Collins and Democrat Joe Manchin.

    That got Kavanaugh past the key procedural hurdle.

  • Woman:

    The yeas are 51. The no's are 49. The motion is agreed to.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But it wasn't clear if Collins would vote yes on his confirmation itself until she took to the floor in the afternoon.

  • Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine:

    Mr. President…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    No senator has been under more pressure from both sides. Collins spoke to many issues, including whether Kavanaugh would overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

  • Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine:

    Protecting this right is important to me. To my knowledge, Judge Kavanaugh is the first Supreme Court nominee to express the view that precedent is not merely a practice and tradition, but rooted in Article 3 of our Constitution itself.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On the allegations of sexual assault:

  • Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine:

    The facts presented do not mean that President — that Professor Ford wasn't sexually assaulted that night or at some other time. But they do lead me to conclude that the allegations fail to meet the more likely than not standard.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Minutes after Collins spoke, Democrat Joe Manchin confirmed he too was a final yes.

    Republicans were happy, with President Trump tweeting he was very proud of the Senate.

  • Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley:

  • Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.:

    We had a campaign a distraction from his outstanding qualifications, a campaign of destruction of this fine individual.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The Senate floor action came after weeks of heated hearings and debates, along with a reopened FBI investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.

    Democrats like Dick Durbin of Illinois, who voted no today, pointed to Kavanaugh's temperament at the hearing.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin, D- (D-Ill.):

    It's hard to imagine how a nominee who has displayed such raw partisanship could then claim to serve — serve as a neutral umpire in the Supreme Court.

    Judge Kavanaugh, through his testimony, has called his own impartiality into serious doubt.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In a rare move, Kavanaugh himself addressed his emotional testimony in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal last night, writing: "My hearing testimony was forceful and passionate. I might have been too emotional at times. I know that my tone was sharp. And I said a few things I shouldn't have said."

    White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defended the nominee on FOX News.

  • Sarah Sanders:

    I thought his tone in last week's hearing was exactly what you would expect from somebody going through what Brett Kavanaugh and his family have been through over the last several weeks.

  • Woman:

    You will have to tell your children and your grandchildren where you stood today.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Around the Capitol, anti-Kavanaugh protesters gathered again. Those concerns were dismissed by Republicans inside the chamber.

    John Cornyn of Texas applauded the vote.

  • Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas:

    Our vote today was important not only because it will allow us to move forward and conclude this confirmation process. But it was important because it showed that the United States Senate will not be intimidated. We will not be bullied by the screams of paid protesters and name-calling by the mob.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Democrats like California's Kamala Harris still questioned the thoroughness of the latest FBI investigation.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.:

    This wasn't a search for the truth. This wasn't an investigation. This was an abdication of responsibility and duty.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    If confirmed tomorrow, Kavanaugh could join the other eight justices on the Supreme Court early next week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now, along with "NewsHour" White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.

    Hello to both of you.

    Lisa, as we said, what a dramatic day.

    Tell us a little bit more about what it was like. When did these yes votes decide, and what factors went into the decision?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A dramatic day after such a dramatic week.

    Judy, going into this vote, I spoke to several Republican leaders, including Roy Blunt, who is a good vote-counter. They didn't know if they had the votes going in. The last time that happened on health care, they lost. It was a big gamble.

    But in the end, as you sat in that chamber, I saw Lisa Murkowski with her head down looking at her hands. I saw Susan Collins next to her. The two weren't speaking. They weren't cold to each other, but it seemed they were probably going to go different ways.

    So when Murkowski announced that no vote, it really sent shockwaves to through the chamber. Is he in trouble? And then Collins was a yes. Manchin was a yes, another surprise vote. It was quite a dramatic day.

    And I think those yes votes were very important to look at. Collins talked a lot about the homework she did. She went into a lot of substance.

    But when you talk about — to Manchin, talking to his team, he was really struck by his personal time with Judge Kavanaugh. In the end, he felt that Judge Kavanaugh convinced him that he would consider human beings in his decision. Essentially, Manchin was trusting Kavanaugh, based on their personal interactions.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    So, Yamiche, you have been at the White House talking to them. Take us behind the scenes. What are they saying? Were they wringing their hands all day long? What was going on there?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the White House fought for this nomination, and won.

    President Trump watched very closely as all this drama played out on the Hill. Don McGahn, the White House counsel, personally went to the Hill to shepherd this vote through. And the White House was very, very involved in Brett Kavanaugh's nomination.

    The president himself was calling senators, engaging senators throughout the week, but also today. And the White House really was making the case, look, this is Brett Kavanaugh's chance. He's going to be a good conservative judge. You should trust him.

    And I should say that the White House really coached Brett Kavanaugh for hours and hours and hours, first about his initial testimony, and then when he had to go back a second time. And they told Brett Kavanaugh, you should be aggressive in your defense of yourself. They coached him to say, you know what, you should go on FOX News, which, of course, is the president's favorite channel. You should go and defend yourself.

    And you should write this op-ed in The Wall Street Journal and say, you know what? I know you saw me get emotional, but I can be an impartial judge.

    So tonight the White House is feeling great. I want to read to you some of the tweets that the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, put out. She said: "Thank you, Senator Collins, for standing by your convictions and doing the right thing to confirm Judge Kavanaugh."

    The president's son, Donald Trump Jr., also tweeting tonight. He is attacking Joe Manchin, who is the only Democrat who voted to clear Brett Kavanaugh. He wrote: "A real profile in courage for lying liberal Joe Manchin. Waited until Kavanaugh had enough votes secured before he announced his support. I bet he had another press release ready to go if Collins went the other way."

    So what you see here is allies of the president going after the people who — even Democrats who voted for Brett Kavanaugh, so still a very highly political moment here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Interesting going after somebody who voted for it.

    So, Lisa, what about the fact that they lost some prominent votes. Tell us about the folks who went the other way and why.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right, exactly.

    Lisa Murkowski, she had a lot weighing on her, but she had some winds blowing toward no when you look at her state. Those include the governor and lieutenant governor of Alaska, who both came out as no votes. She's talked also a lot about health care. Remember, she was a critical vote against that health care repeal, in part because Alaska has such great health care needs.

    Something else has, one of the highest rates of sexual assault against women in this country. She's very aware of that. She also has a very Native American population that doesn't trust Judge Kavanaugh and has been very vocal about it.

    All those factors seem to weigh. But Judy, she decided, as we said, as she walked into the chamber. So it was a close call for her. I think also Heidi Heitkamp is someone interesting, because she's — right now polls show her losing or behind in her race. Where she's behind, voters under 45 and with women.

    As a no vote, you have to wonder, is she wondering if this helps her with those key groups that usually Democrats win?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, quickly, Yamiche, what does the White House say about what this means for their agenda?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    This is a campaign promise fulfilled for President Trump. He ran on the notion that, even if you don't like me personally, even if you think I'm too brash, or you don't like my tweeting, I can get you conservative justices on the Supreme Court.

    And, tonight, he's almost — he's almost — at having two Supreme Court justices to point to and say, this is going to be my legacy. So you have white evangelical voters that I have talked to them that they — they think the president was someone who they don't personally like, but there's this idea that the president really did win this and that he's feeling great about this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, we are going to have to leave it there, but thank you both for some great reporting.

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.

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