Senate leader sets up key test vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination

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The US Senate is braced for a crucial initial vote on Friday on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.

It comes after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set his polarised chamber on a schedule to decide an election-season battle that has consumed the nation.

A showdown roll call over confirmation seemed likely over the weekend.

Mr McConnell cemented the process late on Wednesday and announced that sometime during the evening, the FBI would deliver its report on claims that Mr Kavanaugh sexually abused women.

“There will be plenty of time for members to review and be briefed on the supplemental material” before Friday’s vote, Mr McConnell said to the nearly empty chamber.

Politicians were planning to begin reading the FBI report early on Thursday, with senators and a small number of top aides permitted to view it in a secure room in the Capitol complex.

Senators are not supposed to divulge the contents of the agency’s background reports.

The report was arriving at a Capitol palpably tense over the political stakes of the nomination fight and from anti-Kavanaugh protesters.

Amid complaints that some politicians were being confronted outside their homes, Mr McConnell claimed on the Senate floor that the protesters were “part of the organised effort” to derail Mr Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“There is no chance in the world that they’re going to scare us out of doing our duty,” he said.

Supreme Court Kavanaugh
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (J Scott Applewhite/AP)

Senator Susan Collins told reporters that Mr Trump’s lampooning of Ms Ford at a Tuesday night Mississippi campaign rally was “just plain wrong”.

Senator Lisa Murkowski called it “wholly inappropriate and in my view unacceptable”, and Senator Jeff Flake said on NBC’s Today show that the remarks were “kind of appalling”.

Those senators, along with Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have yet to declare how they will vote.

Mr Trump drew laughs on Tuesday with his rendition of how Ms Ford answered questions at last week’s hearing. “I had one beer — that’s the only thing I remember,” he stated inaccurately.

Mr Trump himself did not respond publicly to the criticism. On Twitter, he hailed Mr Kavanaugh as “a fine man and great intellect” and insisted, “The country is with him all the way!”

The California psychology professor has testified that a drunken Mr Kavanaugh sexually abused her in a locked room at a high school party in the 1980s.

Mr Kavanaugh has denied her assertions and those of two other women, who have accused him of other instances of sexual misconduct in the 1980s.

In a statement on Wednesday night after Mr McConnell set the vote in motion, Ms Ford’s counsel wrote: “An FBI supplemental background investigation that did not include an interview of Dr Christine Blasey Ford — nor the witnesses who corroborate her testimony — cannot be called an investigation. We are profoundly disappointed that after the tremendous sacrifice she made in coming forward, those directing the FBI investigation were not interested in seeking the truth.”

Washington has been awaiting completion of the investigation since last week, when Mr Flake, Ms Collins and Ms Murkowsk pressured a reluctant Mr Trump and Republican leaders to order the FBI to renew its background check of Mr Kavanaugh, 53.

The FBI interviewed several people, including three who Ms Ford has said attended a 1982 high school gathering in suburban Maryland where she says the alleged attack occurred, plus another Kavanaugh friend.

The agency has also spoken to a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, who has claimed Mr Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a Yale party when both were freshmen.

In an interview, Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin said Mr McConnell was “hell-bent on getting this done” this week.

Democrats also demanded that the FBI privately brief the Senate about the investigation before the chamber votes.

Mr McConnell rejected that request in a letter on Wednesday to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, saying Democrats would use it to delay Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

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