Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is considered to be one of three Republicans who could oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court (Brendan SMIALOWSKI)

Washington (AFP) – As the US Senate prepares to vote on whether to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, all eyes are on three Republican senators who could make or break the nomination.

The Republican lawmakers considered potential opponents of President Donald Trump’s pick for the nation’s highest court are Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Republicans enjoy a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate and Kavanaugh, a staunch conservative, is unlikely to draw any support from the Democratic side of the aisle, although the possibility cannot be ruled out entirely.

A defection by just two Republicans would torpedo the hopes of Kavanaugh, a 53-year-old appeals court judge whose nomination has been clouded by allegations he committed a sexual assault decades ago while a teenager.

Flake, 55, has been a vocal critic of Trump, and Collins, 65, and Murkowski, 61, have crossed swords with the Republican president on several occasions.

In July of last year, Collins and Murkowski earned Trump’s ire when they voted against his attempt to repeal former president Barack Obama’s health care legislation.

“Senator Lisa Murkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday,” Trump tweeted. “Too bad!”

Unlike most other Republicans, Collins and Murkowski back a women’s right to an abortion and concerns have been raised that Kavanaugh could support attempts to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on the subject.

All three senators have been bombarded with questions from reporters and constituents all week about how they plan to vote and the pressure clearly caught up to Flake on Friday.

– ‘Don’t look away from me!’ –

Just minutes after issuing a statement saying he would vote “yes” on Kavanaugh, Flake was confronted in a Senate elevator by several irate women who said they were victims of sexual assault.

“Don’t look away from me! Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you’ll let people like that go to the highest court on the land,” one weeping woman told a visibly uncomfortable Flake.

After extricating himself, the Arizona senator sprang an 11th-hour surprise as the Senate Judiciary Committee was preparing to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Amid confusion in the hearing room, Flake called for the full Senate vote to be delayed for up to a week to allow the FBI to investigate the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh.

Flake joined the 10 other Republicans on the panel in sending Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor but he said later the results of the FBI probe could lead him to change his mind.

Murkowski and Collins both welcomed the delay and the FBI probe into the allegations by university professor Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982.

“It was a good step today,” Murkowski said.

Flake is retiring from the Senate but Collins, who will be up for re-election in 2020, is under pressure in her home state of Maine.

Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in Maine by 48 percent to 45 percent in the 2016 presidential election and the northeast state has been leaning increasingly Democratic.

Hundreds of women showed up on Friday outside Collins’ office in Portland, Maine, to voice their opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“A Sexual Predator Does Not Belong on the Supreme Court,” read a sign carried by one of the protestors.

Murkowski is on safer ground in Alaska.

She comes from a storied Alaska political family — her father was governor and a senator before her — and she doesn’t face the voters again until 2022.

Asked Friday if he has a message for Murkowski and Collins, Trump said he did not have one.

“They have to do what they think is right,” the president said. “They have to be comfortable with themselves.”

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