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Susan Collins will vote for Brett Kavanaugh, making his confirmation nearly certain

The Maine Republican announced her decision in a Senate floor speech Friday.

Susan Collins
Susan Collins
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) will vote yes on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, she said Friday afternoon, in an announcement that all but ensures Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Collins defended Kavanaugh at length in a Senate floor speech, calling him qualified, praising his “record of judicial independence,” and portraying opposition to him as driven by partisanship and “special interest groups.” Based on her reading of Kavanaugh’s record, and her conversations with him, Collins said she does not expect him to strike down Roe v. Wade, same-sex marriage rights, or Obamacare’s preexisting conditions protections.

As for Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault, Collins emphasized that the “presumption of innocence” for Kavanaugh was important to her.

“I found her testimony to be sincere, painful and compelling. I believe that she is a survivor of a sexual assault and that this trauma has upended her life,” she said. “Nevertheless, the four witnesses she named could not corroborate any of the events of that evening gathering where she said the assault occurred.”

“Therefore, I do not believe that these charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the court,” she continued. “I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”

Collins’s backing gave Kavanaugh the support of 50 Republican senators, enough to confirm him with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence. However, Pence’s vote won’t be necessary — because just minutes after Collins finished speaking, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced that he too would back Kavanaugh, making him the only Democrat to do so. Which means Kavanaugh is headed for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

Collins has sounded supportive of Kavanaugh for months

Collins and Kavanaugh meet in her office in August.
Collins and Kavanaugh meet in her office in August.
Zach Gibson/Getty

Since the very moment Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in June, the political world’s attention focused on Collins. She is widely viewed as the most moderate Republican senator, and famously defected from her party to help sink Obamacare repeal last year. She also supports abortion rights — which is particularly important, because Roe v. Wade would be at risk should Kennedy be replaced by a further-right conservative.

In fact, Collins even laid down a marker, saying on July 1: “I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade because that would mean to me that their judicial philosophy did not include a respect for established decisions, established law.”

Yet all along since Trump announced he would nominate Brett Kavanaugh, Collins has sounded quite positive about the choice. After interviewing Kavanaugh in private, she called him “well credentialed” and “thoughtful in his approach to the issues.” She’s also said, “I do not believe he’s going to repeal Roe v. Wade.

To explain why she felt so confident about this, she cited Kavanaugh’s support for “precedent,” claimed that he “clearly reveres our Constitution.” But she also indicated she’d discussed Roe with Kavanaugh specifically. Kavanaugh told her that to overrule a precedent, particularly a decades-old one like Roe, it “would have to be grievously wrong and deeply inconsistent,” she said. (Liberals have responded by calling her naïve, and questioning why the right would so staunchly back Kavanaugh if they thought he’d uphold Roe.)

All along, Collins has faced enormous pressure from both sides. Though she’s defied political gravity and won easy reelection for years in a purple state, sharing the ballot with Trump in 2020 could well prove more difficult. And progressive activists have been intensely lobbying — some groups even raised $2 million that they said they’ll spend on behalf of her opponent, if Collins supports Kavanaugh. (Collins complained that this was akin to a “bribe.”)

After Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh (which he denied), Collins said it was important to hear her out. And she backed her fellow moderates’ call for a one-week delay in the vote, so the FBI could look into the allegations. But once the FBI sent their findings to Capitol Hill Thursday, Collins said that their investigation looked “very thorough” to her — in contrast to Democrats, who complained it wasn’t anywhere near thorough enough.

Indeed, in her speech she suggested that Democrats were manipulating Ford for political reasons. “I could not help but feel that some people who wanted to engineer the defeat of this nomination cared little, if at all, for her well-being,” she said, reserving particular ire for the unknown person who leaked the contents of her letter.

In the end, though, Collins didn’t sound particularly conflicted. She said that she didn’t believe activists who argued that Kavanaugh would overturn Roe v. Wade, saying that many previous Republican appointees — Sandra Day O’Connor, David Souter, and Anthony Kennedy — declined to do so.

Indeed, she was positively effusive in her defense of Kavanaugh, saying that according to those who know him best, “He has been an exemplary public servant, judge, teacher, coach, and father.”