Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairs the Senate Special Committee on Aging on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite | AP

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins joined 49 other Republican senators and one Democrat in voting to advance Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to a decisive Senate confirmation vote this weekend, but she hasn’t yet committed to voting for him in the end.

Maine’s senior senator has been part of a small group of senators who hadn’t said how they will vote a Kavanaugh, a federal judge whose nomination was thrown into limbo last month after three women went public to accuse him of sexually assaulting them when he was a young man.

Collins scheduled a speech on the Senate floor on Friday afternoon to disclose how she’ll vote on Kavanaugh, though the centrist said that she would vote with her party in the morning to advance his nomination to a final vote that is slated for Saturday.

“I will be voting yes on proceeding to the final confirmation vote and I will announce my intentions on how to vote later today,” she told a gaggle of reporters and protesters outside her Washington, D.C., office on Friday.

The senator has been under enormous pressure ahead of the vote. Since Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, Collins and those other two undecided Republicans — Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — are the fulcrum on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Flake voted with Collins andanSen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, to advance the nomination, but Murkowski voted against it. It makes Collins and Manchin — who is facing a tough 2018 re-election fight in a state that the Republican president won with 68.5 percent of votes — the key senators to watch on confirmation.

If he is confirmed, Kavanaugh may cement a conservative majority on the high court for a generation, since he would replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has often been a deciding vote on major issues. It is one of the most-watched votes of Collins career and perhaps the biggest since she voted to acquit former President Bill Clinton of impeachment charges in 1999.

Even before the allegations emerged, Democrats and abortion-rights groups feared that Kavanaugh could be the deciding vote in overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision guaranteeing abortion access. They looked to the pro-abortion rights Collins as an ally.

Protesters have often assembled at Collins’ offices in Maine and Washington, D.C. Nearly a quarter of the $9.5 million spent on TV ads aimed at lobbying senators on Kavanaugh was spent in Maine, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Activists have pledged $1.8 million to Collins’ 2020 opponent if she votes for Kavanaugh, which Collins likened to a “bribe.”

At first, Collins looked to somewhat approve of Kavanaugh. She emerged from a meeting with him in August to say that he told her Roe v. Wade was settled precedent, while liberals challenged how much that statement really meant. That changed after the allegations emerged.

A week ago, Collins was one of three undecided Republicans who forced a new FBI review of the allegations against Kavanaugh after a hearing where he testified after California professor Christine Blasey Ford, who accused the judge of sexually assaulting her at a party when they were in high school. He has denied all of the allegations.

The Maine senator has been hunkered down for much of the week and only emerged on Wednesday and Thursday to make brief utterances on developments in the Kavanaugh confirmation that made headlines and nudged along speculation.

On Wednesday, she called the Republican president’s mocking of Ford at a rally “just plain wrong.” On Thursday, she came out of a briefing on the FBI’s report on the Kavanaugh allegations to say the review “ appears to be very thorough,” though Democrats complained that its scope was too limited and neither Kavanaugh nor Ford were interviewed.

If the demonstrations are an indication, a Collins vote for Kavanaugh vote may allow Democrats to harness progressive anger at Collins in ways that they haven’t before. In one poll ahead of the senator’s 2014 re-election bid, she led her Democratic challenger among Democrats en route to a 37-point win and she has been named the most bipartisan senator.

BDN State House reporter Alex Acquisto contributed to this report.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...