President Donald Trump’s nominee Brett Kavanaugh looked headed for a lifetime job on the US Supreme Court after two senators said that accusations of sexual misconduct against the judge would not prevent them voting to confirm him.
If Judge Kavanaugh wins confirmation at a final Senate vote which is likely today, Mr Trump can claim victory in his drive to consolidate conservative dominance of the nation’s highest court and move the American judiciary to the right.
Two key senators, Republican Susan Collins and Democrat Joe Manchin, both regarded as swing votes, said they would support Judge Kavanaugh after weeks of intense debate about sexual violence that gripped the nation.
A sharply partisan battle over the nomination became an intense political drama when university professor Dr Christine Blasey Ford accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were in high school in Maryland in 1982.
Senator Collins said the accusations against Kavanaugh “fail to meet the more-likely-than-not standard”.
As protesters in a Capitol Hill hallway shouted “Shame on you”, Senator Manchin told reporters an FBI investigation that did not find corroborating evidence of Dr Ford’s accusations was thorough.
Two other women also made accusations of sexual misconduct by Judge Kavanaugh in the 1980s. He angrily denied the accusations.
Earlier yesterday, senators backed Judge Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, by 51 to 49 in a procedural vote that moved the Republican-controlled Senate toward a definitive decision.
If confirmed, Judge Kavanaugh would tip the balance on the court to a 5-4 majority in favour of conservatives in possible legal battles ahead over contentious issues such as abortion rights, immigration, and Mr Trump’s attempt to ban transgender people from the US military.
Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, and with the two key senators choosing to vote in favour of Judge Kavanaugh, the confirmation looked locked in last night.
In theory, Judge Kavanaugh could be confirmed, sworn in and then be able to sit on the bench in his robes on Tuesday when the court is next in session.
The Kavanaugh fight has riveted America and a global audience just weeks before midterm elections on November 6 in which Democrats are trying to take control of Congress from the Republicans.
Mr Trump, himself accused by numerous women during the 2016 presidential election of sexual misconduct, tweeted his approval for yesterday’s Senate vote, saying, “Very proud of the US Senate for voting ‘YES’ to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh!”
Mr Trump has made appointing conservative judges a major plank of his presidency, and last year his nominee Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate.
Dr Ford’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee was broadcast live on television and captured the attention of some 20 million people across the States watching on broadcast and cable networks.
In an angry rebuttal later that day, Judge Kavanaugh said the accusations were part of a “political hit” by Democrats.
His nomination became a flashpoint in the #MeToo social media movement against sexual harassment and assault.
Mr Trump mocked Ford on Tuesday during a political rally in Mississippi, further angering Democrats and women campaigning for an end to sexual violence.
The FBI sent Congress documents detailing additional interviews about Judge Kavanaugh that the agency conducted at the request of some Republican and Democratic senators.
While the documents have not been made public, Republicans said they did not back up sexual assault allegations by Dr Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California.
Similarly, Republicans said the FBI found nobody to support assault claims by Deborah Ramirez, who was a classmate of Judge Kavanaugh’s at Yale University in the 1980s.
Democrats called the FBI report a whitewash and said the White House placed constraints on the FBI, which did not speak to many potential witnesses.