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Decisive Vote On Kavanaugh Expected After Senators Review FBI Report


All day, senators have been going in and out of a secure underground room at the Capitol, viewing one copy of the FBI's report on sexual assault claims against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The report is confidential, and reactions have been divided. Democrats call it incomplete. Republicans say it was thorough. A final vote on Kavanaugh could take place within 48 hours, and there are just a few undecided senators.

For more on that, we're joined by NPR's Kelsey Snell. Hi, Kelsey.


SHAPIRO: As you've been talking with senators today, does this report seem to have changed anyone's mind?

SNELL: It seems to be kind of comforting for a lot of Republicans. Senator Bob Corker announced that he would vote for Kavanaugh after a briefing this morning. He talked with some of us later in the day as he was heading in to actually read the report for himself. And he said there was nothing new there to corroborate any allegations against Kavanaugh. And he said he felt he was comfortable now. And then you have people like Lindsey Graham, who was a huge Kavanaugh supporter before. He says, if anything, this report made him feel stronger about that support. Here's what he said.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: And I think after all this is said and done, I'm stronger in terms of understanding the facts than I were before. And I am ready to vote.

SHAPIRO: But what about those three undecided senators we've been talking about all week? What have you heard from them?

SNELL: Yeah. We're focused still on Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona. Those three Republicans are really critical here. Murkowski has mostly been ducking reporters. And she has gone in and out reading that report for much of the day. Others like Susan Collins of Maine and Flake - they say - you know, they haven't said exactly how they'll vote. But they both say they found this report helpful.

Collins called it thorough. And Flake, who's one of the people who actually called for this investigation - he told reporters he thought it was thorough as well. And he says he hasn't seen any new corroborating evidence, which is the thing that he said before he would be a yes if that was the case, if there wasn't that corroborating evidence that would be found.

SHAPIRO: So we're still kind of reading the tea leaves on how they're going to vote.

SNELL: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: What about the contents of this report? How much have we learned about what's in it?

SNELL: Honestly, virtually nothing because they can't tell us anything. It is confidential. It is locked behind those closed doors in the subbasement of the Capitol. And what we do know is that it's about 45 pages. And they spoke to about nine people, and NPR has confirmed the names of six of them. And most of those people are friends of Kavanaugh and Ford from high school. They also spoke with Deborah Ramirez, who was a classmate at Yale. And she's the one who accused Kavanaugh of drunkenly exposing himself to her in the early to mid-'80s.

So like I said, there's that one copy. And the senators are just circulating through and telling us that - you know, that these are mostly interviews and a transcription of the conversations that they had. We also know that Ford and Kavanaugh were not interviewed. So they are not a part of this. And Dems are pretty upset about that.

SHAPIRO: So Senators now have the report. The Senate majority leader has said he wants a vote in the next 48 hours. What happens in that time?

SNELL: Sometime likely tomorrow morning, there will be a procedural vote that is necessary for them to move on. They need 51 votes to pass that. And that makes this a really key test because 51 votes is all it takes to approve his confirmation when that comes up. So if they can get to the 51 votes now, it's very likely they'll be able to get to it once the final vote comes up.

And you know, it's - while it is procedural, it's really extremely rare for people to change their minds after a procedural vote like this. And you know, just as a reminder, there are 51 votes. Republicans have that right now. And they can afford to lose one person and still approve Kavanaugh because Vice President Mike Pence could step in and cast that tiebreaker. Then a final vote comes about 30 hours later. That means sometime maybe Saturday afternoon or early evening for a final vote.

SHAPIRO: Kelsey, will you reflect on the political consequences of this controversy? We're about a month out from the midterms. Yesterday we heard about this NPR/Marist poll saying that Republican enthusiasm had jumped over the last month perhaps because of Kavanaugh. Do you expect that this confirmation vote could have a real impact on congressional elections?

SNELL: Honestly, it depends on how you're looking at it. For House Democrats, it's great. They're fighting a battleground in the suburbs. And they're eagerly courting women there, and this has energized them. The Senate battleground, on the other hand, is in states that Trump won in 2016. And that's a much harder situation for Democrats up for re-election in those states. So far, only one Democrat from - of that group is someone we haven't heard from. That's Joe Manchin of West Virginia. And just today, Heidi Heitkamp said she was a no, and this is what she said.


HEIDI HEITKAMP: The process has been bad. But at the end of the day, you have to make a decision. And I've made that decision.

SNELL: Polls are showing her down. And this might be the thing that she needs to do to kind of remind people she is a Democrat.

SHAPIRO: And this is in the state of North Dakota.

SNELL: Right. That's right. I'm hearing from a lot of Democrats that they think Republican enthusiasm may fade if Kavanaugh gets confirmed. So we will see.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Kelsey Snell, thanks so much.

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

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
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