President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans gained confidence on Thursday that his U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, could win Senate confirmation after two wavering lawmakers responded positively to an FBI report on accusations of sexual misconduct against the judge.
The report, sent by the White House to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the middle of the night, was denounced by Democrats as a whitewash that was too narrow in scope and ignored critical witnesses.
Thousands of anti-Kavanaugh protesters rallied outside the Supreme Court and entered a Senate office building, holding signs such as “Believe Survivors” and “Kava-Nope.” Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested, including actress Amy Schumer.
But Republicans moved forward with plans for a key procedural vote on Friday and a final vote on Saturday on confirming the conservative federal appeals judge for a lifetime job on the top U.S. court.
The timing of the vote could be complicated by Republican Senator Steve Daines, whose office said on Thursday he planned to attend his daughter’s wedding in Montana on Saturday, making him unavailable to cast his vote.
Republicans control the Senate by a 51-49 margin. With Daines out of the picture, the party would need every other Republican to vote for Kavanaugh for him to be confirmed in a Saturday vote in the event all Democrats oppose him.
No Republicans have said they will vote against Kavanaugh, although four have not committed to supporting him.
Comments by two of them - Jeff Flake and Susan Collins - indicated the FBI report, which was the latest twist in the pitched political battle over Kavanaugh, may have allayed their concerns about him. Flake, a frequent Trump critic, was instrumental in getting the president to order the FBI investigation last Friday.
Trump, himself accused by numerous women during the 2016 presidential race of sexual misconduct, wrote on Twitter that the FBI report showed that the allegations against Kavanaugh were “totally uncorroborated.”
Collins said the FBI investigation appeared to be thorough. Flake said he saw no additional corroborating information against Kavanaugh, although he was “still reading” it. Another undecided Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski, did not offer her view on the FBI report.
Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, wants to finish reading the report before he makes a decision, his spokesman Casey Contres told the Denver Post. Gardner’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
While the comments by Flake and Collins were positive, neither explicitly announced support for Kavanaugh.
A previously undecided Democratic senator, Heidi Heitkamp, said she would vote against Kavanaugh, citing “concerns about his past conduct” and questions about his “temperament, honesty and impartiality” after his angry, defiant testimony a week ago to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senator Joe Manchin, the only remaining undecided Democrat, said he would finish reading the report on Friday morning.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein noted that the FBI did not interview Kavanaugh himself or Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor from California who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in 1982.
“It smacks of a whitewash,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters, saying the report should not give political cover for Republicans to vote for Kavanaugh because “it is blatantly incomplete.”
Most Democrats opposed Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh from the outset. If confirmed, he would deepen conservative control of the court. The sharply partisan battle became an intense political drama when Ford and two other women emerged to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in the 1980s when he was in high school and college.