UPDATE 2 – Kavanaugh clears hurdle on way to top US court

ADDS COLLINS VOTE ANNOUNCEMENT; UPDATES LEAD; REMOVE COLLINS TO VOTE GRAPH

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee got one step closer to receiving approval as his path to confirmation became more certain Friday.

The Senate voted along near party lines 51 – 49 to advance Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to a final confirmation vote before several key senators announced they would lend their support in a final confirmation vote expected as early as Saturday.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin joined 50 Republicans in voting for Kavanaugh in Friday's cloture vote, but Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski voted against advancing him alongside 46 Democrats and both of the chamber's independents.

The vote marks a key step for Kavanaugh whose confirmation has been mired in sexual assault allegations from at least three women, most notably from Christine Blasey Ford who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, detailing Kavanaugh's alleged high school sexual assault in the 1980s in which she said she feared for her life.

Republican Senator Susan Collins was one of at least three pivotal swing votes, alongside Manchin and Murkowski, whose support was crucial to determining whether Kavanaugh is able to assume a seat on America's highest court.

After voting "yes" to advance Kavanaugh through the Senate, Collins announced later Friday that she would vote to approve his confirmation.

Shortly after Collins’ announcement, Manchin said he would also vote “yes”.

Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who called for a one-week delay to allow for the FBI to probe sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, indicated he would vote for Kavanaugh as well after lending his support in Friday's procedural vote.

Democrats have taken issue with the FBI report, which they say is rushed and incomplete, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted in his unwavering support for Kavanaugh that the charges against him are "uncorroborated."

The stakes could not be higher for McConnell and U.S. President Donald Trump who nominated the conservative jurist in early July. If Kavanaugh is confirmed he would replace Anthony Kennedy, who long established himself to be the bench's swing vote on critical issues.

The top court would then lean solidly conservative 5-4.

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