Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) will vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, he announced Friday, making him the only Senate Democrat to support Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“My heart goes out to anyone who has experienced any type of sexual assault in their life. However, based on all of the information I have available to me, including the recently completed FBI report, I have found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist who will follow the Constitution and determine cases based on the legal findings before him,” he said in a statement.
The announcement came just hours after he voted yes on a key procedural measure to advance Kavanaugh to a final vote. As he did with the procedural vote, Manchin waited until his close ally, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), announced her position on confirming Kavanaugh before taking a position himself. While Manchin sought to avoid having to be the deciding vote for Kavanaugh, it appears Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) may end up missing the vote because of his daughter’s wedding, making Manchin the potential deciding vote in a 50-49 split. The timing isn’t likely to temper Democrats’ rage at him any less, as evidenced by anti-Kavanaugh protestors’ chants of “shame on you” as Manchin walked through his Senate office building shortly after the vote.
The red-state senator’s decision makes him the only Democrat to back Kavanaugh. All other red-state Democrats facing tough reelection fights, including Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN), who’d voted to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch, said they couldn’t support Kavanaugh.
Manchin said he’d been torn about the decision, saying he had “reservations about this vote given the serious accusations against Judge Kavanaugh and the temperament he displayed in the hearing.”
But Manchin has spent the past two years courting Trump and his voters as he steeled himself for a tough reelection fight in a state Trump carried by a 41-point margin. And while he’s held a lead in all polls of his race, there were signs that the polarizing and emotional fight over Kavanaugh’s nomination could be putting his reelection at risk.
Manchin’s lead over West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) was down to four points in a recent poll conducted for the GOP’s top super-PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund. That poll and another conducted for a different conservative group found that a vote against Kavanaugh would further damage Manchin’s standing with the Trump voters he needs to hang onto to win.
Manchin’s own internal poll released after the Kavanaugh hearing had him with a 12-point lead, so it’s unclear how much the debate had damaged his standing. But it’s clear there was political risk for him to take the vote.
Democratic strategists privately concede that the Kavanaugh fight has helped galvanize the GOP base. That’s an especially problematic development in the battle for the Senate, where most of the toughest fights are in deep red states. The one other major Democrat to announce he would back Kavanaugh is former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D), who’s in a tight Senate battle with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
It remains to be seen how much their votes against Kavanaugh will hurt Heitkamp, Donnelly and McCaskill, or whether Bredesen and Manchin will face enough backlash from what makes up the Democratic bases in their states for it to be truly problematic. Manchin did lose 30 percent of the Democratic primary vote to a little-known challenger last spring, and he needs every vote to win his reelection.
It’s also quite possible that this will not be the issue animating voters on either side a month from now, given how dramatically news cycles shift in the Trump era.
But where Heitkamp and Donnelly stuck their necks out, Manchin decided to go where polls show the majority of his state’s voters are. That could help keep him come out ahead of Morrisey.