US Senate poised to confirm Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh

Conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh is set to be confirmed as the next US Supreme Court Justice by the US Senate, bringing an end to a tedious nomination process. (AFP)
Updated 06 October 2018

US Senate poised to confirm Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh

  • The expected Senate vote will bring an end to a months-long battle over the conservative judge's nomination
  • Kavanaugh's nomination has been met with loud protests, both in Washington and in other cities across the United States

WASHINGTON: The US Senate is expected to confirm conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court justice on Saturday — offering President Donald Trump a big political win and tilting the nation’s high court decidedly to the right.
The months-long battle over Kavanaugh’s nomination has gripped Washington, laying bare the partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill and the political polarization of America just a month before midterm elections.
The Senate vote — set to begin sometime after 3:30 p.m. (1930 GMT) — will bring an end to a raucous nomination process defined by harrowing testimony from a woman who says Kavanaugh tried to rape her when they were teenagers — and his fiery rebuttal.
If Kavanaugh is confirmed, Trump will have succeeded in having his two picks seated on the court — a major coup for the Republican leader less than halfway through his term.
His promotion to the Supreme Court will also stand as a demoralizing defeat for Democrats who battled hard to block the 53-year-old judge at all costs.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation was all but sealed on Friday when he won the support of key Senate Republican Susan Collins and conservative Democrat Joe Manchin.
Their statements of support brought the number of senators supporting Kavanaugh to 51 in the 100-member chamber.
“This is a great day for America,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News late Friday, congratulating his colleagues for “refusing to roll over under all of this intense pressure.”
Kavanaugh’s nomination as a replacement for retiring justice Anthony Kennedy was controversial from the start — but the initial focus was solely on the conservative views held by the married father of two.
But his ascent to the Supreme Court was in serious doubt last week after research psychologist Christine Blasey Ford testified that he had sexually assaulted her at a Washington area party in the early 1980s.
The brutal hearing sparked a supplemental FBI dive into Kavanaugh’s background and a week-long delay of the Senate vote.
While many senators say they were satisfied with the FBI probe, her lawyers say the investigation was insufficient.
“An FBI investigation that did not include interviews of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh is not a meaningful investigation in any sense of the word,” they said in a statement quoted in US media.
Collins — a moderate Republican from Maine — said Kavanaugh was entitled to the “presumption of innocence” as the allegations against him were not substantiated with corroborating evidence.
While acknowledging that Blasey Ford’s testimony was “sincere, painful and compelling,” Collins added: “We will be ill-served in the long run if we abandon the presumption of innocence and fairness.”
Immediately after that speech, Manchin announced his support, calling Kavanaugh a “qualified jurist” who “will not allow the partisan nature this process took to follow him onto the court.”
Manchin faces extraordinary political pressure. He is up for re-election in West Virginia, a state Trump won overwhelmingly in 2016.
The stage was set for Saturday’s final confirmation when the Senate ended debate on the nomination on Friday with a procedural 51-49 vote — a move cheered by Trump, who said he was “very proud.”
If he wins confirmation, Kavanaugh — who has faced a bruising process that raised questions over his candor, partisan rhetoric and his lifestyle as a young man — will seal a conservative majority on the nine-seat high court, possibly for decades to come.
His nomination has been met with loud protests, both in Washington and in other cities across the United States. On Friday, more than 100 people were detained.
Trump dismissed the mostly female anti-Kavanaugh protesters — and claimed that billionaire financier George Soros, a frequent target of conservatives, was behind their demonstrations.
“The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it!” he tweeted.
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski described her decision to oppose Kavanaugh as “agonizing,” and said that while she hopes he will be a “neutral arbiter” on the court, she “could not conclude that he is the right person for the court at this time.”
However, she said while she would vote “no” on Saturday, she would ask that her vote be registered as “present” so as not to jeopardize the majority — and allow a fellow Republican to attend his daughter’s wedding instead of returning to Washington to vote.
Protesters have spent days in Washington urging swing senators like Collins and Murkowski to vote no.
Trump’s reference to Soros, who has supported pro-democracy movements around the world and the US Democratic Party for years, appeared to aim at inciting more support and anger from the president’s conservative Christian base.
The Jewish billionaire is frequently described by arch-conservatives as a behind-the-scenes operator driving liberal and progressive movements — criticisms that have prompted counteraccusations of anti-Semitism.
But Democrats were still arguing that there had been too little effort made to investigate the allegations against Kavanaugh.


South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

Updated 40 min 35 sec ago

South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

  • South Korea will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct

SEOUL: South Korea’s military said on Tuesday it plans to expand the deployment of an anti-piracy unit now operating off the coast of Africa to the area around the Strait of Hormuz, after the United States pressed for help in guarding oil tankers.
Attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran last year prompted US officials to call for allies to join a planned maritime security mission.
While South Korea, a key US ally, will deploy its forces to the area, including the Gulf, it will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct, the defense ministry said.
“The South Korean government decided to temporarily expand the deployment of the Cheonghae military unit,” a ministry official told reporters, adding that the step would ensure the safety of citizens and free navigation of South Korean vessels.
The decision to divert the navy unit already operating southwest of Arabia is a political compromise that will not require fresh authorization by parliament ahead of an election in April.
The Cheonghae unit will continue with its mission while it cooperates with the coalition, the ministry said, adding that the United States had been briefed on the decision, which was also explained to the Iranians separately.
The United States welcomes and appreciates South Korea’s decision to expand the mission of its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz, William Coleman, spokesman for the US Embassy in Seoul, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“This decision is a demonstration of the strength of the US-ROK alliance and our commitment to cooperate on global security concerns.”
The Iranian embassy in Seoul had no comment on the matter.
The Strait of Hormuz is a busy passageway into the Gulf, with vessels sailing through it approximately 900 times a year for South Korea, which gets more than 70% of its oil from the Middle East, the defense ministry says.
Sending troops to the area has been a politically sensitive issue in South Korea ahead of the election.
A survey by pollster Realmeter last week showed 48.4% of South Koreans were opposed to dispatching soldiers to the Strait, while 40.3% supported the idea.
Tuesday’s move was broadly supported by lawmakers although some said it could risk Iran ties and the safety of South Koreans in the region. A number of progressive activist groups issued a statement criticizing the decision and said they will stage a protest in front of the president’s office on Wednesday.
The Cheonghae unit has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, working to tackle piracy in partnership with African countries as well as the United States and the European Union.
The 302-strong unit operates a 4,500-ton destroyer, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats, South Korea’s 2018 defense white paper showed.
Among its operations were the rescue of a South Korean ship and its crew in 2011, shooting eight suspected pirates and capturing five others in the incident.
The South Korean troops have also evacuated South Korean citizens from Libya and Yemen, and as of November 2018 had escorted around 18,750 South Korean and international vessels.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest crude oil importer and one of Iran’s major oil customers, stopped importing Iranian crude from May after waivers of US sanctions ended at the start of that month.