United States senators confirmed the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Saturday, the divisiveness of their decision apparent in the cries of anguish from the gallery.
As Kavanaugh’s nomination was seconded and the Senate roll call began, protesters were heard screaming. “I stand with survivors!” one woman shouted. Vice president Mike Pence, presiding over the vote, repeatedly called on the sergeant-at-arms to restore order.
The final 50-48 margin came without the vote of Montana Sen. Steve Daines, who was at home in Bozeman attending the wedding of his daughter. Daines had announced his intention to vote “yes,” and said he would fly back to Washington if Kavanaugh’s confirmation came down to his vote.
That’s when Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski stepped in to cast her intended “no” vote in a manner that allowed Daines – whom she called a friend – to remain in Montana.
As her name was called, Murkowski asked that her vote be recorded as “present” rather than “no,” giving her fellow Republicans the margin needed to confirm Kavanaugh.
Montana Sen. Jon Tester joined all but one of his fellow Democrats in voting against Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
As the Senate roll was called, President Donald Trump tweeted his support for Daines:
“I have asked Steve Daines, our great Republican senator from Montana, to attend his daughter Annie’s wedding rather than coming to today’s vote,” Trump tweeted. “Steve was ready to do whatever he had to, but we had the necessary number. To the Daines Family, congratulations-have a wonderful day!”
On Friday, Daines said he had secured a flight back to the Capitol – if needed – aboard Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte’s private jet.
But that likely would have required senators to keep the chamber open – and the vote open – until Daines could get back to D.C. late Saturday night or early Sunday.
Murkowski, the only Republican to oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation, said in remarks on the Senate floor Friday that she would be a “no” vote on Saturday and listed myriad reasons for her decision. She followed with her decision to help Daines.
“I will be a ‘no’ tomorrow,” Murkowski said. “I will, in the final tally, be asked to be recorded as present and I do this because a friend, a colleague of ours, is in Montana this evening, and tomorrow at just about the same hour we’re going to be voting, he’s going to be walking his daughter down the aisle and he won’t be present to vote.”
“I have extended this as a courtesy to my friend,” she added. “It will not change the outcome of the vote.”
Daines and Tester remained steadfast in their earlier announced decisions to split the Montana delegation’s vote.
On Friday, after voting to send the confirmation to a final vote, Daines reiterated his support for Kavanaugh.
In a Facebook post, Daines wrote: “Just cast my vote for Judge Kavanaugh getting him one step closer onto #SCOTUS. We spoke last night, and I assured him, I will be back to vote YES this weekend if needed. Looking forward to calling Judge Kavanaugh, Justice Kavanaugh.”
Daines had earlier released a statement explaining his decision to vote in favor of the confirmation after watching testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a Northern California research psychologist who accused Kavanaugh of trying to rape her when they were teenagers, and a follow-up angry rebuttal by Kavanaugh.
“I made it very clear from the beginning that I wanted to hear from both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh because of the seriousness of these allegations. And I thank both of them for coming before the Committee to be heard.
“But as I watched (the hearing) today, I concluded that there is no corroborating evidence to support this serious allegation. Rather, this seems to be an orchestrated smear campaign intended to destroy Judge Kavanaugh at the eleventh hour.”
Tester, meanwhile, released a statement saying his concerns about Kavanaugh included Ford’s allegations but were broader.
“I have concerns that Judge Kavanaugh defended the PATRIOT Act instead of Montanans’ privacy,” Tester said in a statement released following the Judiciary Committee hearing. “I have concerns about his support for more dark money in politics. I have concerns about who he believes is in charge of making personal health decisions. And I have deep concerns about the allegations of sexual assault against Judge Kavanaugh.
“Unfortunately, Judge Kavanaugh couldn’t find time to discuss these concerns with me in person, so the only information I have is from what he said in his hearings. I’ll be voting against him.”
Tester followed up on that decision Saturday, casting a “no” vote during the Senate roll call.
Tester also had planned to be in Montana on Saturday for a debate against his general election challenger, Republican Matt Rosendale, the state auditor. That debate has been rescheduled for next week.
Rosendale had earlier announced his support for Kavanaugh, saying: “This 11th hour political circus to destroy a good man’s reputation and hurt his family is disgraceful. The Senate should immediately vote to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.”
Following Saturday’s Senate vote, Rep. Gianforte released this statement via his press office:
“The Senate was right to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. A well-qualified, constitutional conservative, Judge Kavanaugh will adhere to the Constitution and interpret laws, not make them from the bench. I look forward to Judge Kavanaugh’s service on the Supreme Court for decades to come and to more nominations from President Trump of constitutional conservatives to serve on the federal bench.”
Kavanaugh succeeds Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat on the Supreme Court, becoming the second Trump appointee on the high court after Justice Neil Gorsuch, whom the Senate confirmed last year. His confirmation assures a conservative court for the first time in decades.