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Kavanaugh’s nomination just moved one step closer to a floor vote

Mitch McConnell checked off a key procedural box on Wednesday night.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford And Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh Testify To Senate Judiciary Committee
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh
Gabriella Demczuk-Pool/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell emphasized on Tuesday that there would be a floor vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination this week. On Wednesday night, he took a crucial step to make sure that happens.

Shortly after the FBI sent a report to the White House detailing findings from its review of sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh (which he has denied), McConnell filed a motion to invoke “cloture” on Kavanaugh’s nomination. That simply means that McConnell has now set up an important procedural vote to take place on Friday. McConnell also indicated that the Senate had not yet received the report, though he said the body was expected to get it late Wednesday.

Filing a “cloture” motion is a procedural move that requires the signatures of at least 16 senators. If it passes in a floor vote, the motion limits the debate on a bill or nomination to just 30 hours. The Senate is only able to vote on a “cloture” motion two days after it has been filed. By filing it on Wednesday evening, McConnell has ensured that the full Senate will be able to take that first procedural vote on Friday.

When the Friday vote takes place, if 51 senators vote in favor of passing it, the upper chamber will curb debate on Kavanaugh’s nomination. In case there’s a tie, Vice President Mike Pence is able to step in and break it. Once those 30 hours of debate are up, the Senate will move to a final vote on his confirmation, likely on Saturday evening.

That Friday vote could be an indicator of how the final vote might go since the same number of senators are required to pass it — but a set of swing-vote senators may ultimately vote to proceed to the final vote even if they haven’t yet made up their mind.

McConnell had promised Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and other pivotal Republicans that he wouldn’t hold a cloture vote until the FBI report had been completed, something he appears to have followed through on.

Now, all eyes turn to how a group of undecided senators will vote — first on cloture, and then possibly, on Kavanaugh.

What to watch for next

The next immediate step in the Senate will be Friday’s cloture vote. While it is a procedural step, it’s important to think of it as a signal of how serious swing votes are in their readiness to take a final vote.

If the three undecided Republicans — Flake and Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) — all vote down the cloture motion, for example, that could indicate that Kavanaugh’s nomination is effectively dead in the water. It could also mean that they’d like to see debate continue for a bit longer.

In another scenario, it’s also possible that the trio — along with other closely watched senators like Democrats Joe Manchin (WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND) — end up voting in favor of the cloture motion, but announce that they are still “undecided” on Kavanaugh’s actual nomination.

In the latter case, if a cloture vote happens and passes on Friday morning, senators will have until late Saturday to make up their minds. It would basically mean another 30 hours of will-they-won’t-they speculation.

Sen. John Cornyn, a top Republican, said that the cloture vote was expected to take place on Friday at 10:30 a.m., according to PBS NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardins. Depending on whether the cloture motion ends up moving forward, the Senate could hold a final confirmation vote as soon as Saturday afternoon.

Something to keep in mind in between

One big unknown between now and Friday’s cloture vote is how senators — and the broader public — will react to the findings detailed in the FBI report, which includes summaries of interviews that the agency has conducted with witnesses about sexual misconduct and assault allegations against Kavanaugh.

As of now, there are still three potential paths forward.

First, it’s possible investigators have found corroboration for allegations brought by Christine Blasey Ford or Deborah Ramirez in their interviews, and this new information resonates with senators. That would put the onus on Flake, Collins, and Murkowski to decide what to do. Other Republicans have said they remain unsure about how the report could affect their stance on Kavanaugh.

In this case, it’s possible McConnell would call their bluff and put the nomination on the floor, risking the very public embarrassment of having the Republicans’ Supreme Court nominee defeated with the world watching. But it’s also possible he would delay the vote or in the most extreme case, urge that the White House pull the nominee altogether.

Second, it’s possible lawmakers see the FBI investigation as offering no new information. As we’ve already seen, many of the objections from Democrats and moderate Republicans have been about the process. With no new substantive information emerging, the skeptical Republican senators could say they are satisfied with the supplemental review. After reaching this conclusion, they could side with Kavanaugh and advance his confirmation.

Third, even with no new information, the undecided Republicans — particularly Collins and Murkowski — could feel the weight of the “believe women” advocacy that has reached a fever pitch. They could get cold feet and either vote down Kavanaugh or pressure McConnell to withdraw the nomination. (The conservative movement already has several alternative candidates waiting in the wings.)

Any of these would be a dramatic end to an already dramatic Supreme Court confirmation process. And any of these remain possible in the coming days, as Kavanaugh, the least popular Supreme Court nominee in recent memory, awaits his fate.

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