After reviewing the findings of a supplemental FBI investigation of sexual abuse allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the Senate on Friday voted to advance the nomination, setting up a rare Saturday session during which he is expected to be confirmed.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation was sealed after Maine Republican Susan Collins said in a highly anticipated speech Friday that she would vote for the nomination. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin also said he would support Kavanaugh, the only Democrat to do so. His vote prevents the need for Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie because of the previous announcement by Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski that she would vote against the nominee.
Like almost all of the Senate and the nation, the nomination split Nevada’s senators along party lines. Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, voted to advance the nomination Friday and in a video he subsequently released said that neither the hearing nor the FBI investigation contained any corroborating evidence to support the allegations. “After review of all the information available, I will be voting to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh tomorrow,” Heller said.
The vote drew fire from Heller’s Democratic opponent in his bid for re-election, from Rep. Jacky Rosen, who said she would not support Kavanaugh if she were a member of the Senate, citing his views on jurisprudence and temperament following the hearing late last month where he reacted emotionally and claimed that the allegations were “revenge on behalf” of the Clintons. Kavanaugh helped write the report that led to the former president’s impeachment.
“For all of these reasons, I could not support Judge Kavanaugh and would vote against confirming him to the Supreme Court if I were serving in the Senate,” she said in a release, adding that the vote would come back to haunt Heller on Election Day.
The race, which is expected to be decided by a small margin, has attracted national attention because Heller is the only Republican seeking re-election in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016, and Republicans are fighting to retain their razor-thin 51-49 majority in the chamber.
Of the allegations that have been leveled at Kavanaugh, which he denies, the FBI investigated the claim by Christine Blasey Ford that she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh while they were high school students and by Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate, who said he exposed himself to her without consent while they were both freshmen in college.
Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who announced her opposition to Kavanaugh before the allegations emerged, said she had issues with the FBI investigation because they only spoke to 10 individuals — and none of the people who said they could corroborate the claims.
“I looked at the most recent background investigation conducted by the FBI and it was limited,” she said on CNN after the vote on Friday. “There’s no doubt in my mind from what I saw because I still had questions after reviewing it. Where’s the follow up? Why weren’t these people questioned?”
The FBI never interviewed Ford or the witnesses she said could attest to her account, according to her lawyers.
Cortez Masto also said she was disturbed by Kavanaugh’s partisan attack at last week’s hearing. “[T]he lack of temperament, the lack of impartiality that he displayed I thought was just, to me, a disqualifying factor,” she told CNN. “That’s not somebody who should be sitting on the highest court.”
Tempers also flared last week after the Department of Energy (DOE) announced it was considering a change in its interpretation of what counts as high-level nuclear waste. Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Rosen said the move could result in a backdoor effort to store nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, where the federal government has sought to build a national nuclear waste repository.
Heller sent a letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Friday asking if he intends to bring any of the reclassified waste to Nevada and if the change in classification would allow new waste to be brought into the state.
“I am troubled by any action, such as the reclassification of high-level nuclear waste, that could potentially be undertaken to disrupt or circumvent the restrictions on Yucca Mountain that I marshaled into law,” Heller said in a release.
Despite the partisanship on display with the Kavanaugh nomination, the Senate approved two major pieces of bipartisan legislation, with the support of both Heller and Cortez Masto. One was a package of 70 bills, providing $8.4 billion to address the nation’s opioid abuse crisis.
Heller said eight of the measures he supported ended up in the package, including language that would clarify states’ legal authority to pursue non-opioid related prescribing, a provision that would update the ‘Medicare and You’ handbook to include information about opioid use, pain management, and alternative pain management treatments, as well as language that would recognize residential pediatric care centers within Medicaid to treat babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome.
“This bipartisan legislation is a perfect example of what Congress can accomplish when we work together, and I’m proud to help send it to the President’s desk,” Heller said in a release.
Two proposals offered by Cortez Masto were also included in the package. One would protect seniors from criminals who misuse the Medicare system to illicitly acquire opioids and other prescription drugs. The other would empower the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on fraudulent substance abuse treatment programs and recovery centers.
“I look forward to continuing to work in a bipartisan way to ensure that Nevadans struggling with opioid addiction receive the crucial treatment and rehabilitation services they need to recover and thrive,” she said in a release.
The other bipartisan measure approved by the Senate last week was the bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, which included provisions for the state such as language to extend the authorization of the Nevada Unmanned Autonomous System (UAS) Test Range, which was set to expire next year. The extension, through 2023, allows a low-altitude research project run in coordination with NASA and the FAA to be completed.
Heller and Cortez Masto wrote to the FAA last week in support of Nevada’s application to be selected for designation as a participant in the Unmanned Traffic Management Pilot Program (UPP). “The State of Nevada UPP application brings together 17 Nevada-based and global companies to launch the first Smart City UAS concept, setting Nevada apart from other UAS test site applications,” the letter said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Amodei wrote to President Donald Trump last week requesting a Presidential Proclamation of October as Italian-American Heritage Month. The letter co-authored with New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell followed their introduction of a resolution establishing October as Italian-American Heritage Month.
“Americans of Italian descent play an integral role in America today, not only in the public policy arena, but in all aspects of our culture,” the letter said. “This proclamation has the support of the Italian-American community as well as the National Italian-American Foundation.”
For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.
SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO
S. 3543 – A bill to protect the voting rights of Native American and Alaska Native voters.
S. 3540 – A bill to provide a coordinated regional response to manage effectively the endemic violence and humanitarian crisis in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
REP. DINA TITUS
H.R. 7030 – To protect the information obtained by the Secretary of Health and Human Services for the placement of unaccompanied alien children from being used for any purpose other than providing safe and secure placements, and for other purposes.
REP. JACKY ROSEN
H.R. 7025 – To amend title 10, United States Code, to improve the Transition Assistance Program for members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.