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Riven Senate advances Kavanaugh nomination toward weekend (UPDATED)

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    Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., right, and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., left, walk together after viewing the FBI supplemental background report on Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the SCIF in the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, before the procedural vote on the Senate floor later in the morning. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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    Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., smiles as he talks with reporters after a vote to advance Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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  • Supreme-Court-Protest

    Protesters rally in Time Square in New York, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. Hundreds of people rallied in front of Trump Tower then walked to Times Square to protest Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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    Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, speaks with reporters just after a deeply divided Senate pushed Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination past a key procedural hurdle, setting up a likely final showdown vote for Saturday, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is followed by members of the media as she walks to the Capitol before a vote to advance Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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    Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., gestures while speaking as he boards the Senate subway car, after a vote to advance Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill, Friday, Oct. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, center, responds to a reporter's question as she is accompanied by a Capitol Hill Police officer, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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  • KAVANAUGH-INVESTIGATION

    A look at supplemental F.B.I. background investigation into the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. ; 2c x 4 inches; 96.3 mm x 101 mm;

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    Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Tom Williams/Pool Image via AP)

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    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks about the FBI investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A deeply divided Senate pushed Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination past a key procedural hurdle Friday, and prospects seemed to improve that the conservative jurist was headed toward the nation's highest court despite allegations that he sexually assaulted women decades ago. A final showdown vote was expected Saturday.

KAVANAUGH-INVESTIGATION

A look at supplemental F.B.I. background investigation into the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. ; 2c x 4 inches; 96.3 mm x 101 mm;

AP Enlarge

Senators voted 51-49 to limit debate, defeating Democratic efforts to scuttle the nomination with endless delays. In the closely divided chamber, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski was the only Republican voting to stop the nomination, West Virginia's Joe Manchin the sole Democrat to keep it alive.

The outcome of Saturday's climactic vote remained uncertain. But the math was breaking in Kavanaugh's favor as the climax drew near for a spellbinding, election-season fight that's been fought against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement and stalwart conservative support for President Donald Trump.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who'd wavered for weeks, voted to move the nomination forward and said he'd vote the same way on confirmation "unless something big changes." Murkowski suggested to reporters that she would again vote no, calling Kavanaugh "a good man" but maybe "not the right man for the court at this time."

That meant Kavanaugh would win final approval unless both Manchin and Republican Susan Collins of Maine switched from backing Friday's procedural vote to opposing confirmation. That was possible, but it is unusual for lawmakers to switch their votes on such high-profile issues.

Collins told reporters she would reveal her decision later Friday, and a "yes" from her would ensure Kavanaugh's confirmation. A "no" would put enormous pressure on Manchin — who faces a competitive re-election fight next month — from fellow Democrats to remain loyal to his party.

Vice President Mike Pence was ready to cast a tie-breaking vote if needed.

Collins, Flake, Murkowski and Manchin were the only lawmakers who didn't reveal until Friday how they would vote on moving the nomination ahead.

The vote occurred amid smoldering resentment by partisans on both sides, on and off the Senate floor.

"What left wing groups and their Democratic allies have done to Judge Kavanaugh is nothing short of monstrous," Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa declared before the vote. He accused Democrats of using destructive, unwarranted personal attacks on the nominee and even emboldening protesters, saying, "They have encouraged mob rule."

On the other side, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York called the fight "a sorry epilogue to the brazen theft of Justice Scalia's seat." That reflected Democrats' lasting umbrage over Republicans' 2016 refusal to even consider Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia.

Confirmation for Kavanaugh would be a crowning achievement for Trump, who with a victory could cast the court in a right-leaning direction for decades. It would also be a triumph for the GOP's conservative base and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

During Friday's roll call, Murkowski sat solemnly and whispered "No" when it was her turn to vote. As the tally neared an end, she spoke with Collins, a friend. They were surrounded by colleagues from both parties after the vote.

Trump weighed in shortly after the result was announced, tweeting, "Very proud of the U.S. Senate for voting 'YES' to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh!"

Friday's vote occurred a day after the Senate received a roughly 50-page report from the FBI on its reopened investigation of Kavanaugh, which Trump ordered only after wavering GOP senators forced him to do so.

Republicans said the confidential document — which described interviews agents conducted with 10 witnesses — failed to find anyone who could corroborate allegations by his two chief accusers, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez. Democrats belittled the bureau's findings, saying agents constrained by the White House hadn't reached out to numerous other people with potentially important information.

Tensions were also reflected by the thousands of boisterous anti-Kavanaugh demonstrators who flowed around the Capitol complex for days, confronting senators and even reported near their homes. Protesters greeted senators with shouts of both opposition and support, and at one point the rallying chant "I believe survivors" echoed through a Senate office building. Trump tweeted against the "very rude elevator screamers," asserting without evidence that they were "paid professionals."

McConnell said that defeating Kavanaugh would mean that "media bullying and mob intimidation are valid tactics for shaping the Senate."

Dianne Feinstein of California, the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, said Kavanaugh's testimony at last week's dramatic hearing should "worry us all," citing what she called "a hostility and belligerence that is unbecoming" of a Supreme Court nominee.

When Trump nominated Kavanaugh in July, Democrats leapt to oppose him, saying that past statements and opinions showed he'd be a threat to the Roe v. Wade case that assured the right to abortion. They said he also seemed ready to knock down Obama's health care law and to rule for Trump if federal authorities probing his 2016 campaign's alleged connections to Russia try to pursue him in court.

Those legal arguments evolved into a late-summer spectacle after Ford accused Kavanaugh of trying to rape her at an alcohol-infused high school gathering in 1982, when both were teenagers. Two other women emerged and accused him of other incidents of sexual misconduct. Kavanaugh denied all the allegations.

Under pressure from wavering fellow Republicans, GOP leaders agreed to an extraordinary Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week that absorbed the nation as Ford nervously recounted her story and said she was "100 percent" certain that Kavanaugh was her attacker.

A fuming Kavanaugh strode into the same packed hearing room and said he was "100 percent" certain the incident had not occurred. He angrily accused Democrats of a "search and destroy" mission, fueled by their hatred of Trump.

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AP reporters Mary Clare Jalonick, Matthew Daly, Padmananda Rama, Ken Thomas and Catherine Lucey contributed.

***

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh (all times local):

10:30 a.m.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine says she will vote to advance Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination in Friday's procedural vote.

Collins told reporters she is "voting yes on proceeding to the final confirmation vote" and will announce her decision on confirmation later Friday.

Collins was one of three Republicans seen as undecided on Kavanaugh's nomination.

Kavanaugh has denied allegations of sexual misconduct in high school and college.

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10:20 a.m.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says Republicans have only themselves to blame for the hurdles in Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. Schumer said Friday, "They have a flawed nominee."

The New York Democrat called it a "shameful culmination" of a process that started when Republicans refused to consider Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee for a seat on the court.

Schumer blamed Republicans' "scorched earth tactics" as they try to put conservatives on the bench.

Senators are poised to vote Friday to advance Kavanaugh's nomination ahead of a final confirmation vote over the weekend.

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10:14 a.m.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein says Brett Kavanaugh's testimony before the Judiciary Committee was "so shocking" it makes him unfit to serve on the Supreme Court.

The California Democrat said that the judge's behavior showed "a man filled with anger and aggression." She said that revealed a temperament and lack of impartiality that's unbecoming for the high court. She spoke on the Senate floor ahead of a Friday procedural vote.

Feinstein is the top Democrat on the committee and made her remarks as the Senate opened for a key test vote to advance Kavnaugh's nomination.

Feinstein says Kavanaugh has not "earned" his seat.

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10 a.m.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has urged his colleagues to say no to "mob rule" and vote to move Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination forward.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said on the Senate floor ahead of Friday's procedural vote, "This should have been a respectable and dignified confirmation process." He says in a previous era a nominee as highly qualified as Kavanaugh would have received unanimous support in the Senate.

Grassley says an FBI investigation "found no hint of misconduct" by Kavanaugh, who has denied a California college professor's allegations he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.

Grassley blames "left-wing outside groups" and "left-wing dark money" for trying to derail Kavanaugh's nomination. He says what they did to sully Kavanaugh's reputation was "nothing short of monstrous."

Democrats say Republicans have tried to rush the process.

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9:50 a.m.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he's "feeling good" ahead of a crucial Senate vote to advance the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

McConnell made the short comment Friday to reporters as he walked to the Senate floor as the chamber opened.

Key GOP senators have not yet said their positions less than an hour before voting. McConnell has little room for error in the narrowly divided Senate with a 51-49 GOP majority. The Senate is set to vote at 10:30 a.m.

Republicans can rely on Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie, but that has never happened for a Supreme Court nominee, according to the Senate Historical Office.

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9:40 a.m.

President Donald Trump is criticizing female protesters who confronted senators over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Trump is calling them "paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad."

Trump tweeted Friday about the women flooding Capitol Hill to oppose Kavanaugh. Trump described the women as "rude elevator screamers" and said they have "professionally made identical signs."

The Senate will take a crucial vote Friday on whether to move Kavanaugh's nomination forward. The nominee has denied allegations of sexual misconduct from high school and college.

Senators have been confronted by protesters, some of whom who are members or paid staffers for activist groups. Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake was challenged by two women as he entered an elevator last week. Several women who identified themselves as sexual assault survivors approached Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah on Thursday and asked why he's backing Kavanaugh.

Hatch waved and told them to "grow up" as he entered an elevator.

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8:20 a.m.

The No. 2 Senate Democrat says an op-ed written by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on the eve of a Senate vote left him unconvinced that Kavanaugh is qualified for the court. Sen. Dick Durbin says he still believes Kavanaugh doesn't have the temperament and is too partisan.

The Illinois Democrat told CBS' "This Morning" on Friday that Kavanaugh's op-ed, in which he conceded being "very emotional" in his Senate testimony was unpersuasive.

Durbin says he understands that "this has to be a terrible ordeal" for Kavanaugh and his family, but adds: "The fire in his eyes when he turned into this partisan screed is something I'm not going to forget."

Kavanaugh has denied allegations of sexual assault by California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, calling them an orchestrated political hit. In an op-ed published Thursday evening in the Wall Street Journal, the 53-year-old judge acknowledged that he became "very emotional" during his Senate Judiciary testimony but is "hardworking" and "even-keeled."

The Senate is poised for a crucial vote Friday on whether to advance Kavanaugh's nomination. Key Republicans remain undecided.

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7:45 a.m.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, who helped broker a deal with Republican Sen. Jeff Flake that led to an expanded FBI background investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, says he doesn't know how Flake or the other undecided senators will vote.

Coons, of Delaware, told ABC's "Good Morning America" Friday that his undecided friends are not returning his phone calls, "and that typically is a way a senator tells you they're busy deciding."

The Senate is poised to take a crucial vote Friday on whether to advance Kavanaugh's nomination amid his denials of allegations of sexual misconduct when he was in high school and college. Flake, of Arizona, and two other Republican senators have not announced how they'll vote. Neither has Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said on Fox News' "Fox & Friends" he doesn't yet know how the vote will come out but respects his fellow senators' decision to keep quiet as they consider what to do.

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1:45 a.m.

The Senate is taking a crucial vote Friday to advance Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. Key GOP senators remain undecided amid allegations of sexual misconduct and intense protests dividing the nation.

The 53-year-old judge made what were in effect closing arguments by acknowledging that he became "very emotional" when forcefully denying the allegations at a Judiciary Committee hearing last week. But in an op-ed published Thursday he insists he remains the same "hardworking, even-keeled" person as always.

Tensions are high at the Capitol, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing ahead with little room for error. Republicans have a slim 51-49 hold on the Senate. A final vote is expected Saturday.



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