WASHINGTON -- Brett Kavanaugh appears to have enough Senate votes to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, likely giving President Donald Trump a major victory and ensuring a conservative majority on the court for a generation.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins, in a lengthy Senate floor speech Friday afternoon, said she would vote for Kavanaugh, whose nomination was embroiled in partisan politics and allegations he committed sexual assault in high school. West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake also said they backed the nominee.
The final vote is expected Saturday.
Collins said she did not doubt that Christine Blasey Ford may have been assaulted on the evening in question or at another time. But she said that none of the four witnesses who Ford said were present could remember any such event. She said that the confirmation process was not a trial and therefore the allegations did not need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
"Nevertheless, fairness would dictate that the claims at least should meet a threshold as more likely than not."
She went on to say that the allegations "fail to meet the more likely than not standard."
"Therefore I do not believe that these charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the court."
Collins' floor speech came after Kavanaugh survived, 51-49, a dramatic procedural vote that could have effectively killed his nomination after sexual assault allegations were made against him.
One wavering Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, defied her party and voted against advancing the nomination.
"He's not the right man for the court at this time," Murkowski told reporters.
With her long speech, Collins captured the attention of the nation, grabbing a spotlight the Maine senator does not often occupy, despite positioning herself as a pragmatist.
Often, Collins is seen as lacking the fire breathing partisan instincts of some of her colleagues. But her speech was also strikingly partisan as she picked apart and rebutted Democratic arguments against Kavanaugh on issues like his expansive view of presidential power, health care, birth control and abortion. She joined in her party's attacks on Democrats on the way the Ford issue has been handled, accusing unnamed staffers of sacrificing her well-being by the "callous" act of leaking her anonymous claims against Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh's candidacy has stirred a furious political debate and whipped up protests and recriminations and a clash between the mostly male power structure of the Republican Party and the emerging influence of the #MeToo movement which has become an important force in liberal politics.
The outcome of the morning cliffhanger vote was in doubt right up until senators raised their hands or announced their votes, as they sat quietly in their desks in an unusual ceremonial scene that epitomized the gravity of the moment.
The only way that the vote could have been closer was if the final tally had been 50-50 -- in which case Vice President Mike Pence would have been called upon to break the tie in favor of Kavanaugh.
A final floor vote on Kavanaugh's nomination will finally resolve a confirmation process that was consumed by partisan outrage after the emergence of allegations that Kavanaugh assaulted Christine Blasey Ford while they were teenagers in the 1980s in suburban Washington DC.
Kavanaugh repeatedly denied the allegation, but emotional testimony Ford delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, and the judge's own explosive and partisan performance raised doubts about his temperament and left his hopes hanging by a thread.
In the tense moments before the morning vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for whom a conservative Supreme Court majority would represent a career defining achievement, accused Democrats of trying to derail Kavanaugh's nomination with delaying tactics and obstruction-- even though he is a possibly Washington's most accomplished master of the dark arts.
"We know the Senate is better than this, we know the nation deserves better than this," McConnell said. "Let's seize the golden opportunity before us today, confirm a Supreme Court justice who will make us proud."
Had the vote fallen short, it would have thrown a major blow to the nomination and throw the possibility of confirmation into serious doubt.
There was immense relief at the White House where Trump watched a vote that takes him one final step closer to becoming the Republican president who enshrined a conservative majority on the Supreme Court -- an achievement that will elevate him in history.
"Very proud of the U.S. Senate for voting 'YES' to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh!" the President tweeted, moments after the final tally became official.
Ford's lawyers said their client was not watching the vote unfold on television.
Friday's vote took place after yet another extraordinary twist in the Kavanaugh confirmation process, when the nominee penned a last minute Wall Street Journal op-ed that was seen as an effort to put to rest questions about his temperament.
"I was very emotional last Thursday, more so than I have ever been," Kavanaugh wrote in the Journal. "I might have been too emotional at times. I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said. I hope everyone can understand that I was there as a son, husband and dad. I testified with five people foremost in my mind: my mom, my dad, my wife, and most of all my daughters."