A deeply divided US Senate has pushed Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination past a key procedural hurdle, setting up a likely final showdown on Saturday.
It is part of a battle that has seen claims of sexual assault against the nominee, which he denies, threaten President Donald Trump’s effort to tip the court to the right for decades.
The Senate voted 51-49 to limit debate, effectively defeating Democratic efforts to scupper the nomination with endless delays and nearing the climax of a fight that has captivated the country since summer.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh has an impeccable record of public service and impartial rulings with more than 300 published opinions. Judge Kavanaugh has a track record of applying the law as written. Itâs time to #ConfirmKavanaugh— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) October 5, 2018
With Republicans controlling the chamber 51-49, one Republican voted to stop the nomination and one Democrat voted to send it further.
Of the four politicians who had not revealed their decisions until Friday – all moderates – Republican senators Susan Collins and Jeff Flake voted yes, as did Democrat Joe Manchin.
Mr Flake later said he will vote to confirm Mr Kavanaugh “unless something big changes”.
Republican Lisa Murkowski voted not to move the nomination ahead.
While the vote was a victory for the Republican Party, politicians can vote differently on the climactic confirmation roll call, which seems likely to be on Saturday afternoon.
Ms Collins told reporters she would announce later how she would go.
That left unclear whether Friday’s tally signalled that the 53-year-old federal appellate judge was on his way to the nation’s highest court, though it would be unusual for politicians to switch their votes on such a high-profile issue.
Confirmation would be a crowning achievement for Mr Trump, his conservative base and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Ms Murkowski sat solemnly during the roll call and whispered “No” when it was her turn to vote.
As the tally neared an end, she spoke with Ms Collins. Both were surrounded by colleagues from both parties after the vote.
All four politicians who had been undeclared said little or nothing to reporters as they left the chamber.
Mr Trump weighed in shortly after the roll call was announced, tweeting: “Very proud of the U.S. Senate for voting ‘YES’ to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh!”
Very proud of the U.S. Senate for voting âYESâ to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2018
Friday’s procedural vote occurred a day after the Senate received a roughly 50-page FBI report on the sexual assault allegations, which Mr Trump ordered only after wavering Republican senators forced him to do so.
Republicans said the secret document – which described interviews agents conducted with 10 witnesses – failed to find anyone who could corroborate allegations by his two chief accusers, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez.
Democrats belittled the bureau’s findings, saying agents constrained by the White House had not reached out to numerous other people with potentially important information.
The vote also occurred against a backdrop of smouldering resentment by partisans on both sides.
That fury was reflected openly by thousands of boisterous anti-Kavanaugh demonstrators who bounced around the Capitol complex for days, confronting senators in office buildings and even reportedly near their homes.