UPDATE – Kavanaugh clears hurdle on way to top US court

ADDS DETAILS THROUGHOUT; UPDATES SUBHEAD

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee got one step closer to receiving approval Friday, but his path is still far from clear.

The Senate voted along near party lines 51 – 49 to advance Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to a final confirmation vote. But several key senators have yet to announce if they will lend their support on the vote that is expected to take place 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 is one of at least three pivotal swing votes, alongside Manchin, and Murkowski, who will determine whether Kavanaugh is able to assume a seat on America's highest court.

While Collins voted "yes" to advance Kavanaugh through the Senate, she said that did not signal how she would vote on his confirmation.

And even though Manchin voted "yes" as well, it is unclear how he will vote in the end.

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

Collins is expected to announce later Friday her decision on Kavanaugh.

Trump lauded Friday's vote, saying in a tweet that he is "very proud of the U.S. Senate for voting 'YES' to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh!"

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