After a bitter partisan fight that gripped the country, lawmakers backed Kavanaugh by 51 to 49 in a procedural vote that moved the Republican-controlled Senate toward a definitive decision on whether to confirm him.
Given the result of Friday’s vote, federal appeals court judge Kavanaugh looked on track to get the lifetime job on the Supreme Court. But a change of heart by some lawmakers in the final vote would mean his confirmation could still be derailed.
Confirmation would hand Trump a clear victory and tip the balance on the court to a 5-4 majority in favor of conservatives in possible legal battles ahead over contentious issues such as abortion rights, immigration, and Trump’s attempt to ban transgender people from the U.S. military.
The Kavanaugh fight has riveted Americans just weeks before Nov. 6 elections in which Democrats are trying to take control of Congress from the Republicans.
What was already a sharply partisan battle became an intense political drama when university professor Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were in high school in Maryland in 1982. Two other women also made accusations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh in the 1980s.
He denied the allegations.
Kavanaugh’s fate might still be in the hands of a few key senators in a chamber where Republicans hold only a razor-thin majority.
One of them, Republican Susan Collins, voted in favor of advancing the process on Friday, but said she would announce later in the day whether she would support Kavanaugh in the final vote still ahead.
Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Jeff Flake voted to advance Kavanaugh, but neither has stated his position on a final vote.
Further complicating matters for the Republican leadership, Senator Steve Daines was set to be at his daughter’s wedding on Saturday and has said he will not miss the ceremony. That may require a delay in the final vote.