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These are the senators to watch during Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation process

Last Updated Oct 3, 2018 5:57 PM EDT

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote Friday on whether to proceed with Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination. But even if he is referred unfavorably out of the Committee, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could still call a vote on the Senate floor, which could happen as soon as Tuesday. 

Kavanaugh needs 51 votes to become the Supreme Court's next associate justice, and with a 51-49 GOP majority, a handful of senators will determine whether he takes that seat, after a day of powerful Senate testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were both in high school, and from Kavanaugh, who denied her allegations and lashed out at Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee over what he called a "grotesque and coordinated character assassination" that would "dissuade competent and good people from all persuasions" from serving the country.

A few moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats, some of whom face contentious reelection races this fall, are as of yet undecided on whether to support Kavanaugh. The Trump administration and Republicans harbored some hope that at least the three Democrats who supported Justice Neil Gorsuch in his confirmation process last year might vote in favor of Kavanaugh's confirmation. The Democrats, North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp, Indiana's Joe Donnelly and West Virginia's Joe Manchin, are bound to alienate voters no matter what they decide. All three are up for re-election in November in states that Donald Trump carried by wide margins.

Here's a look at the senators to watch over the next few days as the Senate considers Kavanaugh's confirmation:

Republicans

Lisa Murkowski

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican from Alaska, is one of two key female GOP senators who will play a key role in Kavanaugh's path to confirmation. 

Murkowski, who backed Flake on calling for the FBI to investigate further, declined to say whether or not she's supporting Kavanaugh. "The FBI is doing its investigation. We need them to do their investigation," she said Tuesday. "What I'm going to do is I'm going to wait to see what comes back."

Susan Collins

The other key female GOP senator in Kavanaugh's confirmation process is Maine's GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who has said she wouldn't want a justice who would move to overturn Roe v. Wade. Collins released a statement on Friday, Sept. 28 saying that she supported the FBI's supplemental background investigation, and later added that she was "pleased" to hear that Kavanaugh friend Mark Judge would cooperate with investigators. 

Jeff Flake

The Arizona Republican was quick to insist that Ford's story be told to the committee. "I've made it clear that I'm not comfortable moving ahead with the vote on Thursday if we have not heard her side of the story or explored this further," Flake told the Washington Post soon after the allegation was raised. After Thursday's hearing, he said it would be a tough vote. The next morning Flake initially said he would be voting for Kavanaugh. 

Shortly after his office issued a press release stating this, Flake was confronted by two women who said they were victims of sexual assault and accused him of saying with his vote that their assaults didn't matter. Video of the incident went viral, and soon afterward, Flake said he would vote to advance Kavanaugh's nomination out of committee on the condition that the confirmation by the full Senate be paused for a week in order to allow the FBI to take another look at Kavanaugh's background and the current relevant allegations against him.   

On CBS News' "60 Minutes," which aired on Sunday, Scott Pelley asked Flake and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, "If Judge Kavanaugh is shown to have lied to the committee, the nomination is over?" Both responded, "Oh yes. I would think so."

Democrats

Heidi Heitkamp

Heitkamp, one of three Democrats to support Justice Neil Gorsuch in his Supreme Court confirmation process last year, has released a single statement on Kavanaugh since the first allegation was made against him, praising Ford for coming forward and calling for the allegation to be "thoroughly investigated."

Joe Manchin

West Virginia's Manchin, a vulnerable Democrat who is up for reelection in the state that voted for Mr. Trump over Hillary Clinton by the greatest margin, has much at stake. Mr. Trump and Manchin's Republican opponent, Patrick Morrisey, have already been slamming Manchin for times he's sided with Democrats, such as on last year's tax overhaul vote. If Manchin votes against Kavanaugh, it will be more ammunition in the GOP arsenal come November. 

Manchin was was also among the three Democrats to vote for Gorsuch last year.

Joe Donnelly 

Donnelly, a vulnerable Democrat heading into the 2018 midterms, announced Friday that he will vote against Kavanaugh, citing "deep reservations." He did vote to confirm Gorsuch last year. 

"I have deep reservations about Judge Kavanaugh's nomination to this lifetime position and, as I stated, we have been unable to get all the information necessary regarding this nomination, despite my best efforts," Donnelly said in a statement Friday. "Only 113 people have ever served on the Supreme Court, and I believe that we must do our level best to protect its sanctity."

"While I would gladly welcome the opportunity to work with President Trump on a new nominee for this critically important position, if Judge Kavanaugh's nomination comes before the full Senate for a vote under these circumstances, I will oppose it."

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.