Vulnerable red-state Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp announces she'll vote "no" on Brett Kavanaugh

"This isn't a political decision. I can't get up in the morning and look at the experience I've had and say, 'Yes'"

Published October 4, 2018 3:50PM (EDT)

Heidi Heitkamp (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Heidi Heitkamp (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), a key swing vote in the battle to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, announced Thursday that she will vote to oppose President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee.

Heitkamp's decision, which she first announced to North Dakota radio station WDAY, comes less than a day after the FBI completed its investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct raised against Kavanaugh.

Heitkamp, who is running for reelection this November in a state that Trump handily won in 2016, said last week's hearing where Kavanaugh defended himself against accusations of attempted rape by Dr. Christine Blasey, raised questions about the high court nominee's "current temperament, honesty, and impartiality" and has "furthered a national discussion about stopping sexual assault."

"Our actions right now are a poignant signal to young girls and women across our country," Heitkamp said. "I will continue to stand up for them."

Heitkamp believed that Ford "gave heartfelt, credible and persuasive testimony." She also pointed to her work to implement the Violence Against Women Act as the attorney general for North Dakota.

"When I listened to Dr. Ford testify, I heard the voices of women I have known throughout my life who have similar stories of sexual assault and abuse," the senator said. "Countless North Dakotans and others close to me have since reached out and told me their stories of being raped or sexually assaulted – and expressed the same anguish and fear."

Heitkamp also mentioned she voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch, Trump's first nominee to the high court. She was one of three Democrats to support Gorsuch's nomination — Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) also voted "yes" on Gorsuch. Donnelly said he would reject Kavanaugh's nomination, while Manchin remains undecided.

The announcement comes as recent polls have shown Heitkamp trailing behind Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), her Republican challenger, by double-digits in her bid for reelection. A Fox News poll published Wednesday revealed that 53 percent of likely voters in North Dakota support Cramer, while only 41 percent back Heitkamp.

While Heitkamp is currently one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate, she said her decision to vote "no" on Kavanaugh wasn't a political one, CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.

"This isn't a political decision. If this were a political decision for me I certainly would be deciding this the other way . . . I can't get up in the morning and look at the experience I've had and say, 'yes,' to Judge Kavanaugh," Heitkamp said.

Republicans likely do not need Heitkamp to secure Kavanaugh's confirmation. They have a 51-seat majority in the upper chamber, which means they can lose one Republican senator – given Vice President Mike Pence's ability to cast a vote in the event of a tie – before they need to ask Democrats for help to seal the deal.

Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have not yet announced how they will vote on Kavanaugh, although Collins suggested her support Thursday for the FBI's probe of Kavanaugh. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also signaled he was likely to vote along party lines

By Shira Tarlo

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