Sunday on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Heitkamp said she “probably” would have voted to confirm Kavanaugh based on his 12-year record on the federal bench. She doesn’t express a blanket opposition to conservative judges; she supported Neil Gorsuch last year along with just two other Democrats (West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, who are also up for reelection in red states). She said she had kept a “completely open mind” and found that she liked him personally.
But then came the allegations of sexual misconduct and the testimony by the psychologist Christine Blasey Ford, who said the judge had assaulted her when they were teens. Heitkamp said she found Ford’s story “believable,” while Kavanaugh’s opening statement blasting Democrats for his treatment was “disturbing”—and his combative responses to questioning were “jaw-dropping.” She watched his testimony again with the sound off to pick up on what he was communicating beyond the words he was saying, she recalled: “I saw a level of anger and combativeness that I thought was not something that would qualify you to sit on the Supreme Court.”
Collins said that day could have been a turning point for her as well.
“After hearing Christine Ford's very compelling and painful testimony, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, he perhaps needs to withdraw,’” she recalled on CNN’s State of the Union.
Yet she was convinced by Kavanaugh’s “forceful denial, and the anger and anguish that he showed.” He may have “stepped over the line” with his aggressive approach, and she wished he didn’t take a shot at the Clintons, but Collins found his indignation understandable in the face of salacious allegations.
Ultimately, without additional evidence to corroborate Ford’s account, Collins opted for a presumption of innocence, as she argued Friday in a 45-minute speech on the Senate floor. (SNL also mocked that dramatic moment announcing her decision: “The last thing I wanted was to be make this about me. That’s why I told everyone to tune in at 3 p.m. so I could tell all my female supporters, ‘Psych!’”)
CNN’s Dana Bash pressed Collins on whether she had believed Ford, who said she was “100 percent” certain Kavanaugh was her attacker. The senator explained, “I do believe that she was assaulted. I don’t know by whom, and I’m not certain when, but I do not believe that he was the assailant.” That line echoed Kavanaugh’s own response and the rhetoric from Senate Republicans, who didn’t want to come across as accusing Ford of lying.
Collins had been one of the centrist Senate Republicans who won a weeklong delay for a reopened FBI background investigation, which ended up including about 10 interviews. Senators were able to read the confidential report at the Capitol. While Collins noted on 60 Minutes that FBI agents had interviewed and not heard corroboration from the people Ford remembered being present at the party where she was assaulted, Heitkamp said she didn’t find the interview summaries helpful.