Sen. Susan Collins a 'yes' on Kavanaugh, drawing anger from protesters and praise from GOP

In this Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, file photo, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks with Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at her office, before a private meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. Collins has been targeted by Democrats hoping that the centrist Republican will vote against the judge's nomination.

WASHINGTON - Republicans look to have enough votes to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after Sen. Susan Collins said she would back him in a speech on the Senate floor Friday. 

The reaction was swift from both sides of the aisle. Protesters were near tears while Republicans rallied around the Maine Republican. 

Speaking on the Senate floor, Collins went over all the arguments against Kavanaugh, including his judicial record and the allegations of sexual assault. She explained her thought process and why these arguments did not hold merit in her eyes. 

Collins said while she believed Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged Kavanaugh groped her when they were teens, was assaulted by someone at some point, her allegations "fail to meet the 'more likely than not'" standard. She said the witnesses who Ford said were there couldn't corroborate any of her claims that Kavanaugh was the one who assaulted her and didn't remember the party. 

She believes voting against Kavanaugh without witnesses or proof could start a "dangerous" precedent. 

"I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh," Collins said, ending her speech. 

Collins had faced fierce pressure from both sides of the aisle over the last several weeks as Kavanaugh's nomination moved through the Senate Judiciary Committee. Before her comments on the Senate floor, Collins had lunch with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

While giving her nearly 45-minute speech, senators Cindy Hyde-Smith, Shelley Moore Capito and Joni Ernst, all Kavanaugh supporters, sat behind her in support. 

"I thought it was beautiful. She did a wonderful job. I’m very proud of the diligence she put into it," Ernst said after Collins finished. 

Ernst said the GOP women weren’t asked to sit behind Collins but decided to do it when they learned she was giving a speech. "We went to support her," Ernst said. 

Collins' vote drew a quick reaction from both Republicans and Democrats. 

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders posted on Twitter thanking Collins. "Thank you @SenatorCollins for standing by your convictions and doing the right thing to confirm Judge Kavanaugh," Sanders wrote. 

Former president George H.W. Bush also praised her, saying Collins had "political courage and class."

"I salute my wonderful friend and her principled leadership," Bush wrote. 

Collins had for weeks weighed the decision amid large protests in her home state, knowing her vote could have a deep impact on her political career and a reelection bid in 2020.

Her comments on the Senate floor Friday started with interruptions with protesters yelling, "Vote no!" After she finished her remarks, protesters inside the Hart Senate Office Building were devastated, some on the verge of tears. 

“It’s a terrible day for the future of this country,” said protester Lisa Fithian, 57. “Senator Collins just sold out our country, she sold out women, she sold out the climate, she sold out our rights.”

Protesters hugged each other in the atrium, some believing this was it and a final vote would only cement Kavanaugh's future on the high court. Others like Margaret Murphy, 37, were more optimistic. 

"Ever since the [2016] election, I have learned to prepare for devastation," Murphy said. "But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that they could make the right choice and do the right thing. I still sincerely hope that when the final vote comes, they do the right thing."

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Democratic Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., posted on Twitter that this could be a loss but wouldn't stop the fight. 

"We face defeat But we are not defeated. Knocked down But not knocked out," Booker wrote on Twitter. "A loss But all is not lost. Hope is the active conviction that despair will not ever have the last word. #Midterms"

Collins had earlier in the day voted to end debate on Kavanaugh’s nomination, but had not said whether she would back Kavanaugh on the final vote expected Saturday.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Collins she said while she believed Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager, was a survivor, the allegations "fail to meet the 'more likely than not'" standard. She said she believes voting against Kavanaugh without witnesses or proof could start a "dangerous" precedent. 

"The Senate confirmation process is not a trial. But certain fundamental legal principles about due process, the presumption of innocence, and fairness do bear on my thinking, and I cannot abandon them," she said on the Senate floor. 

She said, "I do not believe that these charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the court" but added that her decision should not be "misconstrued as suggesting that unwanted sexual contact of any nature is not a serious problem in this country."

She added that the only good that came of this "ugly" confirmation process was the added awareness of sexual assault across the country. 

Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, the other senator who had been wavering this week, said Friday he will vote to confirm Kavanaugh unless something significant changes.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the only Democrat to vote with Republicans to end debate, announced minutes after Collins' speech ended that he would also vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

This would bring Republicans to a 51-49 victory, assuming no lawmaker takes the unlikely step of switching positions after Friday’s vote.

The Senate voted 51-49 Friday to advance the nomination

The moderate Republican has attracted votes from registered Democrats and she has vowed in the past not to support a Supreme Court nominee opposed to abortion rights and Roe v Wade. 

Collins' vote on Kavanaugh has a has differed from her Republican peers in the past. She voted against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt. 

Contributing: Caroline Simon, Deborah Berry, Eliza Collins