Brett Kavanaugh: Senate set for final vote on Supreme Court nominee

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Brett Kavanaugh has faced a controversial nomination process (Reuters image)

After weeks of controversy, the US Senate is set for a final vote on the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh.

If senators do not change their voting intentions, Judge Kavanaugh will be appointed to the top US court.

The vote is expected at about 17:00 local time (21:00 GMT).

Mr Kavanaugh has been embroiled in a bitter battle to stave off sexual assault allegations.

It was in session right through Friday night into Saturday covering the issue, although the debate has taken place in a largely empty chamber.

Senators are expected to be there in force from 15:30 in the lead-up to the vote.

The Senate is split 51-49 in favour of the Republicans and the vote will be largely along party lines. Mr Kavanaugh would actually only need a 50-50 vote, as that would force a tie-breaker in his favour from Vice-President Mike Pence.

The tally in a procedural vote on Friday was 51-49.

It’s looking as though there will be a similar two-vote margin in Saturday’s vote, barring last-minute changes of mind.

That’s because Republican senators who had been wavering on the issue have come down, with one exception, on Mr Kavanaugh’s side.

The one exception is Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. Although she said Mr Kavanaugh was a “good man”, she said he was “not the right person for the court at this time” and his “appearance of impropriety has become unavoidable”. She remains a no.

However, Democrat Joe Manchin told the Senate on Friday he would vote yes. He is facing a difficult re-election campaign in West Virginia, a traditionally Republican state that Mr Trump won by a landslide.

He said he “found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist”, but later faced shouts of “shame” from protesters.

Two Republican waverers, Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, have finally decided to back the judge. Mr Flake has been a frequent critic of Mr Trump but said he would vote yes, barring any major changes in evidence.

So the vote should be a duplicate 51-49. However, it has been complicated by the case of Senator Steve Daines.

Mr Daines, a yes voter, will be absent to attend his daughter’s wedding, so Senator Murkowski has opted instead to mark herself simply as “present”.

This means the vote is likely to be 50-48.

An FBI inquiry was launched into the sexual assault allegations and other issues after Judge Kavanaugh received initial backing for his nomination in a Senate committee vote last week.

While the investigation has proved politically contentious, the wavering senators decided it had not provided sufficient grounds to oppose Mr Kavanaugh.

Senator Collins said: “We will be ill-served in the long run if we abandon the presumption of innocence and fairness.”

In public testimony last week, Prof Christine Blasey Ford said she had been assaulted by Judge Kavanaugh when they were both teenagers in 1982.

Judge Kavanaugh denied the claim – and allegations that he drank to the point of memory loss at the time – in a feisty confrontation with senators.

Federal agents are believed to have spoken to five witnesses regarding Prof Ford’s accusations and another four other witnesses involving a separate accusation by Deborah Ramirez, who said the nominee had exposed himself to her when they were both at Yale University. He denies Ms Ramirez’s allegations, too.

Mr Trump and his fellow Republicans said the new FBI report had cleared their nominee. Democratic senators said it had been incomplete. (Excerpts from BBC)

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