WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told Reuters on Saturday that the political brawl over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation will help Republicans retain control of the Senate, calling it a “seminal event” leading into the November elections.
“We’d been trying to figure out how to get the base excited about this election, and nothing unifies Republicans like a court fight,” McConnell said in a phone interview just before the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh in a 50-48 vote. “It’s been a seminal event leading into the fall election.”
The intense debate over sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh gripped the American public for weeks, bringing protesters out in force on Capitol Hill and across the country, including near the homes of lawmakers.
“We’ve literally been under assault by the mob,” McConnell said.
But he claimed the intensity has proved to be an aid to Republican unity in the Senate, as the party prepares to take the issue onto the campaign trail.
“This has all really helped me, No. 1, unify my conference, and No. 2, underscore the significance of the Senate,” the Kentucky Republican said.
McConnell even welcomed the acrimony of the political brawl. “I don’t want it to dissipate over the next four weeks, I can tell you.”
Republicans are trying to cling to a narrow 51-49 Senate majority in congressional elections that will be held on Nov. 6.
Several Democrats are running for re-election in states that Republican President Donald Trump won in 2016, making for an uphill fight for them to win a Senate majority.
“We fully intend to be talking about this going into the fall election,” McConnell added. “The energy level is high. We’ve seen the numbers in the races shifting in our direction. This has been good for us politically.”
Kavanaugh’s confirmation appeared to be in trouble a week ago, when three Republican senators, along with Democrats, demanded a supplemental FBI investigation into allegations brought against the nominee by women, including psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford and his former Yale University classmate Debbie Ramirez.
McConnell credited a meeting to discuss the Federal Bureau of Investigation probe with undecided Republican Senators Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski as proving critical to the success of Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“The scope of the FBI’s … investigation was determined not by the administration but by us, this group,” he said. “I think that was the key moment.”
Flake and Collins voted in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, while Murkowski opposed it but asked to be recorded as “present.”
Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Bill Berkrot