By Kate Gill

After days of speculation, controversy, and protest, Brett Kavanaugh moved a big step closer to taking a seat on the Supreme Court after clearing a procedural vote in the Senate, and winning the support of moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

The Senate will hold a formal confirmation vote on Saturday, and barring a surprise change of heart by Republican Senators, Kavanaugh seems assured of the votes he needs.

Among the four Senators seen as possible swing votes, Fellow Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona said he would support Kavanaugh, as did Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Among the wavering Senators, only Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) seems likely to vote against him on Saturday. Murkowski was a no during the procedural vote, suggesting she has shifted her position on Kavanaugh's confirmation.

The 51-49 procedural vote may be the penultimate turn in Kavanaugh's bumpy ride to the nation's highest court, but any senator can change his or her mind in the final hour.

Senator Collins ー who had not previously declared her intention ー spoke on the Senate floor hours after the procedural vote, delivering a lengthy speech on her desire to confirm Kavanaugh and to put the debate to rest.

"We've heard a lot of charges and counter-charges about Judge Kavanaugh, but as those who have known him best have attested, he has been an exemplary public servant, judge, teacher, coach, husband and father," she said.

"Despite the turbulent, bitter fight surrounding his nomination, my fervent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court so that we have far fewer 5-4 decisions, and so that public confidence in our judiciary and our highest court is restored. Mr. President, I will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh."

Sen. Flake also indicated in a statement on Friday he will vote yes on Kavanaugh's confirmation, "unless something big changes."

Collins' unequivocal statement of support for Kavanaugh came just over a week after the nation was riveted by the public testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who said Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school 36 years ago. After initially resisting calls to reopen the background investigation into Kavanaugh, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed last week to bring in the FBI to investigate Dr. Ford's allegations.

The FBI interviewed a small number of individuals but closed the investigation on Wednesday, producing a report that said the agency could find no evidence to corroborate Ford's accusations. Democrats and Ford's lawyers have criticized authorities for not interviewing her, or Kavanaugh, or any potential witnesses that might support Ford's account of a high school party, where the nominee allegedly assaulted her.

Following Friday's procedural vote, President Trump tweeted that he was "very proud" of the Senate.