Endgame: Collins to announce her vote in 3 p.m. speech, McConnell "optimistic"; Update: Collins to vote YES; Update: Manchin too

It’s endgame for the process, I mean, not endgame for Kavanaugh’s chances. Thanks to this morning’s bizarro cloture vote, with Manchin and Murkowski each switching sides, there’s a real chance that McConnell will lose both Collins and Murky — and still get Kavanaugh confirmed with 50 votes thanks to Manchin.

Don’t put too many chips on that outcome. If Collins and Murkowski bail, there’ll be no crowd left for Manchin to hide in. His vote will be decisive. Either he’s the 50th for confirmation, appeasing his very Republican home state, or the 51st to defeat the nomination, appeasing his Democratic base in the desperate hope that West Virginia Republicans will blame Collins and Murkowski for Kavanaugh’s failure instead of him.

A little context on how unusual it would be for Collins to vote no:

She errs on the side of confirmation, but she’s never had to consider a nomination in the context of alleged rape before. Nate Silver’s been trying to game out the significance of Collins announcing in advance that she’d reveal her vote at 3 p.m., an unusual move for a senator not known for theatrics. If you know your Internet memes, you’ll appreciate this. Click the image in the tweet to enlarge it:

It’s weird that Collins would want to put a political target on her back with a suspenseful speech showcasing her vote. The choice to confirm Kavanaugh is so fraught for centrists that they’d doubtless prefer to vote anonymously if they could. As Silver says, though, it’s unlikely that she’d pull a stunt like this for the purpose of yanking the rug out from under McConnell at the last minute. She’s going this route probably because she’s voting yes and wants to try to blunt the anger of Democrats and indies back home right out of the gate by explaining herself. She’ll say some nice things about the importance of #MeToo and of taking victims seriously before emphasizing that the evidence against Kavanaugh is simply too thin to justify voting no. #MeToo is important, but the presumption of innocence is important too.

McConnell talked to her this afternoon and he’s not sweating it:

Whichever way she ends up going, remember there are silver linings for the losing side. If she and Manchin vote no, guaranteeing a party-line Democratic vote in opposition, there’s a real chance that the backlash from angry Republicans will tilt some tight House and Senate races towards the GOP this fall. We might wake up in January with 54 or 55 seats in the Senate and new nominee Amy Coney Barrett on a glide path to confirmation. If she or Manchin vote yes, the same sort of anger on the left might tilt those close races towards Democrats in November. They may hold the majority in the Senate in January, all but ensuring that Trump will fill no further SCOTUS vacancies during his term. And they’ll have a new Republican justice on the Court whom they can smear and delegitimize for the next 25 years, up to and including the possibility of impeachment by a Democratic House. It’s been lost to some extent in the big national melee of the past few weeks that Kavanaugh getting confirmed is not the worst-case scenario for Democrats. A redder Senate and a new nominee with no red flags against him/her is the worst-case scenario. They’re way better off with a damaged conservative being successfully added to the Court, damaging the conservative majority there by extension, than with borking him and then watching Republicans easily confirm a much less damaged replacement.

Here’s the C-SPAN livestream, which should be carrying Collins’s speech live in close you’re not near a TV. While we wait, enjoy Chuck Grassley getting as close to beastmode as an 85-year-old can.

Update: Collins is still speaking as I write this, nearly 40 minutes in. She hasn’t said definitively yet which way she’s voting, but…

Update: She did it!

That’s 50, even if Manchin switches to no on the final vote. (Although why would he do that, now that his vote can be forgiven by Democrats as meaningless?) Kavanaugh will be confirmed — unless Jeff Flake suddenly gets cold feet and wants another month of FBI investigations before tomorrow’s vote. But the odds of that can’t be more than, what, 85-90 percent?

Update: Having received the cover from a centrist Republican that he craved, Joe Manchin finally declares his vote: