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Senate To Vote On Kavanaugh


NPR's congressional correspondent Scott Detrow has been covering this all week.

Scott, thanks very much for being with us.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Any doubt whether today's vote is a done deal?

DETROW: There have been a lot of twists in this story, so I'm not going to say anything is 100 percent certain. But yes, we know that Brett Kavanaugh has the votes to be confirmed to the Supreme Court today. We had been tracking four key undecided senators all along. And yesterday, three of them said they would, in the end, vote for Kavanaugh. That's Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Joe Manchin, who's the only Democrat supporting him. Lisa Murkowski ends up being the lone Republican opposing Kavanaugh's nomination.

SIMON: Guess I don't have to tell you - or anyone, at this point - this confirmation has been so contentious. You were in the rooms where it happened, to twist a line from from "Hamilton." What was reaction like all over the Capitol when Susan Collins, a Republican; Joe Manchin, a Democrat, announced they'd support Kavanaugh?

DETROW: I think the best way to describe the reaction was visceral. And the building was filled with protesters all week leading up to yesterday. The key senators were actually walking around with police escorts, things got so tense. Those protesters found Joe Manchin when he said that he would be the lone Democrat voting for Kavanaugh.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Shame, shame, shame, shame, shame, shame, shame, shame, shame...

JOE MANCHIN: I'm very much concerned, basically, with sexual abuse that people have had to endure...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) ...Shame, shame, shame, shame, shame...

MANCHIN: ...And very much concerned that we have to do something as a country. But I had to deal with the facts I had in front of me.

DETROW: And he would have heard just as much if he voted no. He's in a real tough political spot, running for re-election in a state where President Trump is very popular; the Democratic Party is not popular. And let's talk about Susan Collins. She has been inundated with criticism after announcing she'll support Kavanaugh. Tens of thousands of dollars are already being raised for whoever runs against her in 2020. But at the same time, she got a standing ovation from her Republican colleagues on the floor for her defense of Kavanaugh yesterday.

SIMON: Let me ask you what seems to be a rising note of concern - and sometimes even, if not on both sides of the aisle, at least liberals and conservatives - over this confirmation fight and Judge Kavanaugh - soon to be Justice Kavanaugh, perhaps - his explicit blame of Democrats for trying to get revenge on him for his role in the Clinton impeachment in the 1990s. All of that has politicized the Senate worse than ever and now, perhaps, maybe the Supreme Court.

DETROW: That was a major concern even before that contentious hearing last week, where you had a Supreme Court nominee arguing back and forth with senators. You used to have - the House was where the raw politics happened...

SIMON: Yeah.

DETROW: ...The Senate was more statesmanlike, and the Supreme Court was above politics. Those last two aren't the case anymore. And Lisa Murkowski was very worried about that, and she said that's one reason why she ultimately decided to oppose Kavanaugh.


LISA MURKOWSKI: I believe we are dealing with issues right now that are bigger than a nominee and how we ensure that our institutions, not only our legislative branch but our judicial branch, continue to be respected. This is what I've been wrestling with.

DETROW: Murkowski struggled with this decision. It seems like she didn't make up her mind until the very last moment, until she was actually on the Senate floor. But something she's repeatedly said is, if you look at the polls of public support, the Supreme Court is basically the only institution of American government that Americans really trust right now. And she's just worried about what this will do to that. And it's really unclear what the repercussions will be and what it will look like if Brett Kavanaugh is the deciding vote in 5-4 rulings going forward, which we think he will be a lot of the time.

SIMON: Yeah. What's your feeling about how this might affect the midterm elections that are coming up? Because of course both sides, at one time or another, geared up for this fight.

DETROW: Yeah. We saw how much the Clarence Thomas confirmation process affected the election that came after it. There was a whole year in between those two. There's just a matter of weeks right now. And it's really hard to tell. We've seen polls - we've seen data that showed that the Kavanaugh confirmation fight got Republicans more energized. But now they got what they wanted, so does that enthusiasm fade?

I was talking to one congressman the other day who said that he thought the losing side of the Kavanaugh vote would probably benefit more from voter enthusiasm in the upcoming midterms. It's really hard to know what's going to happen with something this raw happening this close to the election. There's a reason why Congress usually does the contentious, messy stuff in the odd-numbered year...

SIMON: Yeah.

DETROW: ...So they have some time to put some distance between that and Election Day.

SIMON: NPR's Scott Detrow - you can hear him elsewhere on the radio on The Politics Show from NPR, which we'll be doing through the midterms.

Scott, thanks so much.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.