WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump's nominee Brett Kavanaugh took a step towards joining the Supreme Court yesterday when the US Senate approved him in a preliminary vote despite accusations of sexual misconduct against the judge.
After a bitter partisan fight that gripped the country, lawmakers backed Mr Kavanaugh by 51 to 49 in a procedural vote that moved the Republican-controlled Senate towards a definitive decision on whether to confirm him.
The full confirmation vote could take place as early as today.
But one Republican senator left open the possibility that she could still vote no.
Ms Susan Collins said her vote to move the confirmation forward did not signal how she will vote in the end. Instead, she would announce her position on Mr Kavanaugh later yesterday.
Mr Trump applauded the vote in a tweet: "Very proud of the US Senate for voting "YES" to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh!"
Republicans hailed the results of an FBI investigation on accusations against Mr Kavanaugh, saying that none of the nine witnesses interviewed corroborated stories from two women, Dr Christine Blasey Ford and Ms Deborah Ramirez, whose accusations stemming from alleged incidents over three decades ago were investigated.
Democrats branded the investigation a whitewash, saying the FBI failed to pursue leads and interview witnesses who had relevant information.
Mr Trump, himself accused of sexual misconduct by numerous women during the 2016 presidential race, earlier wrote on Twitter that the FBI report showed that the allegations against Mr Kavanaugh were "totally uncorroborated".
The confirmation of Mr Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, would tip the balance on the Supreme Court to a 5-4 conservative majority. He was nominated by Mr Trump to succeed retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was seen as a swing vote on the court.
Thousands of anti-Kavanaugh protesters rallied outside the Supreme Court on Thursday and entered a Senate office building, holding signs that said "Believe Survivors" and "Kava-Nope". Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested, including US actresses Amy Schumer and Emily Ratajkowski.
Mr Trump yesterday accused the protesters of being "paid professionals" funded by billionaire investor and liberal donor George Soros.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES