Maine Sen. Susan Collins said Friday she would vote to confirm the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, resisting months of pressure from sexual assault survivors and reproductive rights advocates

Her support cemented the likelihood Kavanaugh will be confirmed, but it may erode Collins’ reputation as a moderate Republican, especially with female supporters, and likely ensures she will face a well-funded Democratic challenger should she seek reelection in 2020.

Collins made her announcement during a Senate floor speech that lasted nearly 45 minutes in which she detailed the reasons she will vote to confirm Kavanaugh despite the urgings of thousands of Mainers that she reject the controversial nominee.

She repeated again that she was not concerned that Kavanaugh would vote to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion under federal law.

Collins went on to say that Kavanaugh was not on trial, but he still deserved to be treated fairly and that the allegations of sexual misconduct against him had not been corroborated.

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

Collins’ announcement Friday paved the way for President Trump’s nominee to become the next associate justice on the Supreme Court. Moments after she finished giving her speech, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, the only remaining undeclared lawmaker, also said he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh, effectively assuring the judge’s ascension to the high court. Manchin was the only Democrat to support Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Earlier, Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a fellow moderate and a friend of Collins, had indicated that she would vote against it.

The Senate is expected to take its final confirmation vote Saturday.

REACTION SWIFT

Reaction to Collins’ decision was swift, from critics and supporters alike.

“The Kavanaugh confirmation process unmasked the nominee as hostile, misogynist, entitled and partisan,” said George A. Hill, the president and CEO of Maine Family Planning. “We said from Day One that Judge Kavanaugh does not belong on the U.S. Supreme Court, and we are disappointed that Senator Collins didn’t listen to us and the many other constituents who contacted her to voice their concerns about this dangerous nominee. Sen. Collins’ vote guarantees Roe’s demise. Access to abortion will soon depend on what state you live in.”

Cara Courchesne, the communications director for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which organized meetings between Collins and sexual assault survivors, said the vote to confirm Kavanaugh would only affirm to survivors that if they come forward with their stories they will not be believed.

“We are deeply disappointed in Sen. Susan Collins’ decision to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, despite our repeated conversations with her office about the realities of sexual violence victimization,” Courchesne said. “In arguably the most important decision of her career to date, she has made the wrong decision.”

Sen. Susan Collins 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 Friday.

Meagan Gallagher, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund, said Collins “turned a deaf ear” to her constituents.

“Sen. Collins made a choice today to side with (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell and President Trump over Maine people, and we are heartbroken,” Gallagher said in a prepared statement. “Thousands of Maine women came forward, often for the first time, to share their personal stories. They were courageous. Their experiences laid bare the stakes for our country and made it clear that Brett Kavanaugh should not be allowed to serve on the Supreme Court.”

The Maine Republican Party, meanwhile, issued a statement praising Collins.

“Senator Collins has yet again proven that reason and logic will prevail over the rabid rhetoric of extreme partisan agendas. America will soon have a new Supreme Court justice who will respect and defend the United States Constitution as written, and for that I am eternally grateful,” said Demi Kouzounas, the state party chair.

Also offering support to Collins was former President George H.W. Bush who tweeted at Collins “political courage and class. I salute my wonderful friend and her principled leadership.”

Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage also tweeted his support: “Maine’s @SenatorCollins has always taken her responsibility to advise and consent on SCOTUS nominations seriously. Her speech this afternoon was a testament to her diligence and commitment to the principles of fairness and due process.”

Collins’ vote also fueled prospective challenges to her re-election.

PROSPECTIVE CHALLENGER

In a Facebook post, Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, hinted she may step forward to become the Democratic challenger to Collins in 2020.

“Women both in Maine and across the country have raised our voices loud and clear,” Gideon wrote. “Brett Kavanaugh should have no seat on the highest court in the land. Unfortunately, Senator Collins has chosen to vote against the interests of us all. Maine deserves a champion in the U.S. Senate.”

Gideon said presently her focus was on growing the Democratic majority in the Maine House of Representatives while helping to elect Maine Attorney General Janet Mills to the governor’s office this fall.

“But after November I will be seriously considering how I can elevate the voices of people who deserve and demand to be heard and represented in Washington, D.C.,” Gideon wrote.

‘NOT A TRIAL’

Meanwhile, a nationwide crowdfunding campaign, headed by the progressive group Mainers for Accountable Leadership and aimed at building a campaign war chest for a Democratic opponent for Collins in 2020, had exceeded $2 million in pledges before the site crashed Friday afternoon.

“The site is currently down, due to what I believe is the amount of traffic we saw during her speech. In the last 10 minutes we were live, it raised over $50,000,” Nate Glass, an organizer with the group, wrote in an email to the Portland Press Herald.

During her speech, Collins touched on dozens of points but also spoke in strong support of the #MeToo movement, saying that if anything positive came of the controversial nomination process for Kavanaugh, it was greater awareness and concern about the problem of sexual violence in the U.S.

“Every person, man or woman, who makes a charge of sexual assault deserves to be heard and treated with respect,” Collins said. “The #MeToo movement is real. It matters. It is needed and it is long overdue.”

Collins said she believes that Christine Blasey Ford, the California psychology professor who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teens, is a victim, but Collins said she does not believe that Kavanaugh was the attacker.

“I believe that she is a survivor of sexual assault and that this trauma has upended her life,” Collins said of Ford. “Nevertheless, the four witnesses she named could not corroborate any of the events of that evening gathering where she says the assault occurred.”

Collins praised Kavanaugh’s record as a federal court of appeals judge and pointed out that he and Judge Merrick Garland frequently agreed on appeals. Garland was nominated to be a Supreme Court justice by President Obama, but his nomination was blocked by Republican leadership in the Senate, which refused to hold confirmation hearings.

“This debate is complicated further by the fact that the Senate confirmation process is not a trial,” Collins said. “But certain fundamental legal principles about due process, the presumption of innocence and fairness do bear on my thinking and I cannot abandon them.”

Collins’ speech came after an earlier 51-49 cloture vote, a procedural step to limit debate on Kavanaugh to 30 hours and set the final vote on his nomination, which is scheduled for Saturday.

Collins has consistently voted for cloture, including on measures she eventually votes against.

DEMOCRATS TAKE ISSUE

Maine’s senior senator is among the trio of Republicans who called for an expanded FBI investigation into Kavanaugh’s background after Ford and two other women accused him of sexual misconduct.

Collins attended a briefing on the FBI report for Republican senators Thursday, calling it a “very thorough investigation” when she emerged from the room where senators were allowed to read it.

Democrats and other groups took issue with the thoroughness of the inquest, which was limited in time and scope by the White House and Republican leadership in the Senate.

After the cloture vote Friday morning, protesters descended on Collins’ offices in Portland and staged a sit-in, the latest in a string of efforts hoping to convince her to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Collins, Murkowski and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, pushed last week for the additional FBI probe of the allegations against Kavanaugh.

Flake, like Collins, voted Friday to move to the final confirmation vote. Murkowski voted no, setting the stage for Collins or Flake to potentially scuttle the nomination but both said they would vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

Collins and the other Republican moderates have been under intense pressure on how they will vote. She has been meeting regularly with delegations of women who have survived sexual assaults, and her offices in Washington and Maine have been besieged by protests for weeks. Collins also was meeting with McConnell, according to Politico reporter Burgess Everett, who in a tweet said McConnell confirmed a luncheon meeting. CNN was reporting McConnell said he was “optimistic” after the meeting with Collins and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas.

THE FBI REPORT

On Thursday, Collins’ staff met with multiple groups of Mainers throughout the day. A spokeswoman from Collins’ office said the senator spent nearly five total hours in a secure room in the U.S. Capitol reviewing the FBI’s report.

Democrats complained that the investigation, running just six days after Trump reluctantly ordered it, was shoddy, omitting interviews with numerous potential witnesses. They accused the White House of limiting the FBI’s leeway.

Neither Kavanaugh nor Ford was interviewed by the FBI during its investigation this week.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, said while her party had agreed to a weeklong FBI probe with a finite scope, “We did not agree that the White House should tie the FBI’s hands.”

A hefty police presence added an air of anxiety Thursday, as did thousands of anti-Kavanaugh demonstrators. Capitol Police said 302 people were arrested – among them comedian Amy Schumer, a distant relative of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, issued a statement late Thursday that said the FBI reached out to 11 people and interviewed 10. Six of the witnesses involved Ford’s claims, including an attorney for one of them, and four were related to Deborah Ramirez, who has asserted that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when both were Yale freshmen. Grassley said the FBI concluded “there is no collaboration of the allegations made by Dr. Ford or Ms. Ramirez.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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