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Reporter's notebook

Here’s What Happened Inside The Chamber As GOPers Pushed Kavanaugh Closer To Confirmation

on October 5, 2018 in Washington, DC.
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 05: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) walks through the Capitol before a cloture vote on the nomination of Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, at the U.S. Capitol, October 5... WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 05: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) walks through the Capitol before a cloture vote on the nomination of Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, at the U.S. Capitol, October 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. Manchin voted yes in the 51-49 Senate procedural vote to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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October 5, 2018 12:51 p.m.

If members of GOP Senate leadership were confident Friday that they had the votes to advance Judge Brett Kavanaugh closer to confirmation, they certainly didn’t show it as they waited in the chamber for the procedural vote to begin.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) were stone-faced as the rest of the Senate trickled in for the vote, and they kept those poker faces until the gavel came down, even as Republicans’ had narrowly secured enough votes to move Kavanaugh to his final vote. White House Counsel Don McGahn had a seat overlooking the chamber, and stared intently at the Senate floor gripping his head in his hands, elbows on his knees, as the votes were cast.

It was nothing like the roller coaster of visible emotions we saw last year, when the late Sen. John McCain shocked members of both parties by voting to sink the GOP’s Obamacare repeal push. That night, I watched Cornyn’s face go from confident to devastated when McCain told him now he was voting.

McConnell’s floor speech before the vote, however, was impassioned, as he described the pending vote as a referendum not just on Kavanaugh, who’s been accused of sexual assault, but also on the tactics Democrats had used to try to stop his confirmation.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) entered the chamber separately just before the vote was scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. They took their regular seats, which happen to be next to each other, and chatted throughout the vote. At times I could see Murkowski smiling.

The other two undecided senators, Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) entered a few minutes later, also separately. As the vote was ongoing, Manchin left the Senate floor and skipped the first opportunity he would have had to cast his vote. He returned and voted “aye” a minute or two later, but only after Flake, Collins and Murkowksi had all voted and it was clear he would not be the deciding vote.

Flake and Collins’ “aye” votes could be heard clearly and resolutely throughout the chamber. Murkowski’s “no” was barely a whisper. Whatever she had been smiling about with Collins earlier had passed, and she looked down with a serious expression has she filed her no vote, which would be the only Republican vote against Kavanaugh.

I wasn’t entirely sure she voted no until the tally was read off in the chamber after the first round of senators expressed their votes.

When Manchin came back in, he was looking down at his phone a lot, and continued to look down at it after he voted.

Some Democrats looked distraught that Kavanaugh was about to advance through this procedural step, and now, it appeared, was likely to be confirmed on Saturday. I noticed in particular the grimace on Sen. Tim Kaine’s (D-VA) face.

Among the Senate Republicans, I did not detect much joy or excitement even as they appeared to be on the cusp of winning an extremely ugly Supreme Court battle.

Perhaps they’re still worried about the chance — however remote — that both Collins and Manchin could switch their vote for the final confirmation vote Saturday, which would need to happen for Kavanugh to be defeated. Collins will announce her final vote later Friday, and Manchin also promised a statement announcing his.

It appears GOP leaders weren’t going to leave anything to chance. They spoke to Murkowski at length after the vote in the chamber, and she didn’t leave until half an hour after the gavel had come down.

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