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Final Kavanaugh Vote Comes With a Whimper, Not a Bang

Somber mood pervades Senate as Supreme Court nominee is confirmed

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a press conference in the Capitol after the vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a press conference in the Capitol after the vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In the end, for as long, drawn out and acrid as the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination was, the actual confirmation vote itself was brief, to the point and relatively somber.

Senators, seated to take their votes in the chamber during the rare Saturday session, rose at the calls of their names, saying “yes” and “no.” When Vice President Mike Pence announced the 50-48 vote and that Kavanaugh had been confirmed, he did so flatly, with none of the flourish or emotion that usually comes with such hard-fought victories. 

Protests had rung out through the chamber as senators recorded their votes. Several shouted “Shame! Shame!” or stated that they were sexual assault survivors. As one woman was removed from the gallery, her bloodcurdling scream echoed throughout the chamber as the vote paused, waiting for quiet to resume.

As Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., — whose demand for a one-week delay in the vote pending an FBI review of sexual assault allegations against the nominee provided Kavanaugh opponents hope he would vote “no” — was about to be called on, a male protester stood up, started walking toward the exit and with voice barely raised, stated simply, “Flake, you’re a disgrace” and motioned toward Capitol Police and staffers that he wasn’t about to struggle.

A total of 13 protesters were removed and arrested during the vote. Overall throughout Saturday, 164 individuals were arrested for demonstration activities.

Watch: ‘Boo Yourself,’ 4 Pinocchios and Phones on the Floor: Congressional Hits and Misses

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Saturday jet fumes

Almost as soon as Flake voted, he was out of the chamber, running along with Republican Mike Lee of Utah through the basement of the Capitol, across to the House side, past the room used for meetings of the House Republican Conference.

“Catching a flight,” Flake said.

That was the same situation for Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., who left after voting and was making his way through the security line at Ronald Reagan National Airport, across the Potomac River from the Capitol, even as Pence was announcing the final vote.

Many senators followed suit, casting their votes and shuffling out of the chamber quietly. A few Republicans stuck around, gathering to thank Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, whose announcement on Friday that she would support Kavanaugh sealed the deal for the GOP. After the well-wishing, she was soon on her way to CNN for a television hit.


“I always thought that landslides were kind of boring anyways,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said at a relatively subdued GOP press conference after the tight vote.

Right before the vote, McConnell said on the floor he hoped to move beyond “This brief, dark chapter in the Senate’s history and turn the page toward a brighter tomorrow.”

Asked at his press conference about the divisions in the chamber that are now in stark relief, McConnell pointed to progress in other areas like appropriations and the opioid package that just passed, downplaying any lasting damage.

“We were both able to have a robust fight over something both sides care deeply about and still work together on other issues at the very same time,” he said. “These things always blow over.”

Democrats did not seem to be in any mood for reconciliation.

“Now the people are going to have to decide,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. “As I looked over at them, at all of them hanging out, practically celebrating, I thought, ‘Let’s see how you feel the day after the election.’”

‘Thank you’

Senators who throughout the last couple of weeks were repeatedly mobbed by journalists or protesters might not have been prepared for how still the Capitol complex became. Sen. Lisa Murkowksi of Alaska, a frequent swing vote, was frequently one of those senators who had to contend with the crowds.

She was the only Republican to oppose Kavanaugh, but she ultimately voted “present” to pair her vote with Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., a Kavanaugh supporter who was at his daughter’s wedding on Saturday. Her “present” vote offset Daines’ absence, and did not change the outcome. Such pairings are a courtesy and tradition that has become rarer in the more partisan strife of recent years.

On Saturday, after she first voted “no” before changing it to “present,” Murkowski departed the slowly emptying chamber.

She got off the elevator and walked with two staffers through the Senate basement. She stopped and shook hands with Capitol Police officers.

“Thank you for your hard work this weekend,” she said.

As she and her aides waited for the subway train to take them to the Hart Senate Office Building they waited silently.

Then, just as the train pulled up, they apparently changed their minds and started to walk down the basement tunnel that connects the Capitol to the office buildings, perhaps grateful for a walk that was, for the first time in weeks around the Capitol, kind of quiet.

Watch: High Tension on the Hill Leading Up to Kavanaugh Vote

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Katherine Tully-McManus, Niels Lesniewski, Todd Ruger and Patrick Kelley contributed to this report

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