Here Are the 5 Senators Who Will Decide Kavanaugh’s Fate


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Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh testifying last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.CreditCreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — As Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s dramatic confirmation process lurches forward, all eyes are on five moderate, and as yet undecided, senators who will either send him to the nation’s highest court or deal a stunning defeat to President Trump and the Republican Party by derailing his nomination.

Their calculations were upended weeks ago when Christine Blasey Ford came forward to accuse Judge Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party in high school, which he has unequivocally denied.

Now, not only must the senators grapple with whether to confirm Mr. Kavanaugh based on how his qualifications square with the attitudes of their constituents, but they must also weigh something more politically treacherous: his credibility and temperament in the #MeToo era in the face of multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.

Three are Republicans: Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona, none of whom are facing the political pressures of re-election this year. And two are Democrats fighting to keep their seats in red states: Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

Here is how each senator will weigh his or her vote.

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CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

Ms. Murkowski, together with Ms. Collins, has cultivated a reputation as a moderate Republican who is unafraid to break from her party in pivotal moments, including over abortion rights. She and Ms. Collins emerged last year as key votes that sunk a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

But in weighing whether Mr. Kavanaugh should be confirmed, Ms. Murkowski, who is not up for re-election until 2022, has set up her own test.

“We are now in a place where it’s not about whether or not Judge Kavanaugh is qualified,” Ms. Murkowski said last week in an extended interview at the Capitol. “It is about whether or not a woman who has been a victim at some point in her life is to be believed.”

Ms. Murkowski must also take into account the vocal opposition that Alaska Natives, who make up one of her key constituencies, have to Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Mr. Kavanaugh’s views on indigenous rights came to the fore during his confirmation hearings after Senator Mazie K. Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, who released a previously secret email in which Mr. Kavanaugh questioned Native Hawaiians as a protected group.

Alaska Natives have been strong supporters of Ms. Murkowski. The Alaska Federation of Natives, representing 186 federally recognized tribes in the state, raised $1.6 million and grass-roots support for her in 2010, when she ran a write-in campaign for re-election after a Tea Party challenger beat her in the Republican primary.

Ms. Murkowski was the second Republican to join Mr. Flake last week when he called for the F.B.I. to investigate allegations against Judge Kavanaugh.

CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

Although Ms. Collins supports abortion rights, she has indicated that she believes Judge Kavanaugh would uphold Roe v. Wade, citing a discussion they had in which he assured her that he believes Roe is “settled law.” She also dismissed an email he sent in 2003 that Democrats tried to use as evidence that the judge is anti-Roe. In it, Judge Kavanaugh wrote that he was “not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so.”

Previously, Ms. Collins voted for Judge Kavanaugh in 2006 when he was nominated by President George W. Bush to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

But Ms. Collins is one of the senators who has faced the most pressure from protesters to vote against Mr. Kavanaugh. A group of liberal activists created a crowdfunding campaign that has raised more than $1.75 million that donors pledged would be given to her opponent if she votes for the judge’s confirmation. Still others have sent thousands of coat hangers to the senator’s office in Maine.

That pressure might have a different effect than intended: Ms. Collins has hotly criticized those efforts, describing the crowdfunding as “the equivalent of an attempt to bribe me.”

CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

Mr. Flake, a frequent critic of Mr. Trump, is retiring from the Senate this year, after deciding not to run for re-election. As a result, his vote is shielded from the political pressures faced by his peers.

Last week after the hearing, Mr. Flake said that listening to Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey testify left him with “as much doubt as certainty.”

The senator has made clear that he is inclined to vote for Judge Kavanaugh unless the F.B.I. investigation reveals that the judge either engaged in sexual misconduct or lied to the committee. And only hours before Mr. Flake dramatically fought for the F.B.I. to investigate the allegations facing Judge Kavanaugh, the senator had announced that he would support the judge’s confirmation.

“I want to support him. I’m a conservative, he’s a conservative judge,” Mr. Flake told reporters last Friday. “But I want a process we can be proud of, and I think the country needs to be behind it.”

But before then, Mr. Flake had offered his own simple test: “If you believe her, you vote no.”

CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

Mr. Manchin and Ms. Heitkamp are in tough re-election battles in red states, and they are trying to demonstrate to voters that they are not blindly aligned with the Democratic Party.

In 2017, Mr. Manchin voted to confirm Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, Mr. Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, and a vote for Judge Kavanaugh could aid the senator’s campaign.

But the chief issue for the West Virginia senator is health care: Mr. Manchin, who has repeatedly voted against attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, has stressed that he wants the courts to conserve the act’s protections for people with pre-existing health conditions.

After meeting with Judge Kavanaugh, the senator said in a radio interview in July that he was not leaning in a particular direction, but found the judge to have “all the right qualities.”

As accusations against Judge Kavanaugh came out, Mr. Manchin stayed tight-lipped. Last week, however, he released a statement calling the confirmation process “partisan and divisive,” but also supporting delaying the process to accommodate an F.B.I. investigation.

In an interview on Monday with WV News, a local news outlet, Mr. Manchin said he would base his vote on the findings of the investigation.

“If there’s nothing conclusive,” he said, “then it’ll be based on the merits of him being qualified.”

CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

Ms. Heitkamp is facing a competitive challenge from a close Republican ally of the president, Representative Kevin Cramer, in a state Mr. Trump won by 36 points in 2016.

Weeks before three women came forward to accuse Judge Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, Ms. Heitkamp, who voted for Justice Gorsuch’s confirmation, told reporters that she had not yet seen any red flags in his record. In July, she said he seemed like a “fairly standard conservative judge” and “highly qualified.”

But Ms. Heitkamp has since made comments suggesting she is uneasy with the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh.

At a campaign stop on Friday in Grand Forks, N.D., she told The Associated Press that “there are a lot of lawyers in America who can sit on the court” and noted that the standard for judging Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination should not be “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Ms. Heitkamp is playing the careful foil to her opponent’s incendiary remarks. Mr. Cramer, taking a page out of Mr. Trump’s playbook, has denounced Dr. Blasey’s allegations as “even more absurd” than Anita F. Hill’s allegations against Judge Clarence Thomas in 1991, adding that “it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere.”

The senator seized on those remarks, attacking the congressman for displaying “a stunning lack of empathy for victims and the trauma they experience.”



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