Many of you are probably old enough to remember when Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) was saying that the Senate committee hearings over the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for a seat on the Supreme Court hadn’t swayed her position. She was still not inclined to act on any confirmation process prior to the election. That was way back around… three days ago. But as of yesterday, that story has taken a sudden turn. Now Murkowski is saying she plans to vote in favor of confirming Barrett if and when the measure comes to a full vote on the Senate floor. That’s expected to happen tomorrow. So is this a reversal? Perhaps not. As we’ll discuss in a moment, there’s actually a viable rationale behind this decision, at least if you’re willing to squint your eyes a bit when looking at it. (Associated Press)
Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett won crucial backing when one of the last Republican holdouts against filling the seat during an election season announced support for President Donald Trump’s pick ahead of a confirmation vote expected Monday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, declared her support Saturday during a rare weekend Senate session as Republicans race to confirm Barrett before Election Day. Senators are set Sunday to push ahead, despite Democratic objections that the winner of the White House on Nov. 3 should make the choice to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Barrett’s nomination already appeared to have enough votes for confirmation from Senate Republicans who hold the majority in the chamber. But Murkowski’s nod gives her a boost of support.
Unless somebody is planning an eleventh-hour surprise that Cocaine Mitch hasn’t been able to detect, we’re now looking at a confirmation vote where only Susan Collins will either vote against Barrett or abstain. That vote is at least somewhat understandable because Collins is on the verge of losing her seat on November 3rd and she knows how to read the polls in Maine. (Her state’s adoption of ranked-choice voting had probably already doomed her anyway.)
So as I mentioned above, how does Murkowski explain this apparent shift in her position? It all comes down to the process more than the person. Murkowski has never once said that she had any questions about ACB’s qualifications for a seat on the nation’s highest court. She was objecting to the idea of holding the confirmation hearings before the election. She can argue that she would have opposed confirming anyone for the seat, even if it was someone that the leadership of both parties was clamoring for.
But now the choice has been removed from her hands. The vote is going to take place over her objections and it’s her job to consider the nominee and cast a vote. Since that chore can’t be ignored or put off, she’s left with no choice but to acknowledge Barrett’s sterling qualifications and her admirable performance during the hearings and vote to confirm her.
Anybody buying this? Okay… probably not. It was clearly a calculated political show driven by the fact that Murkowski represents a state that’s not nearly as red as it used to be. (Republican Dan Sullivan is currently holding a fairly comfortable lead over independent/Dem Al Gross, but it’s in single digits.) She needs to maintain her patina of independence from the party leadership for the sake of her political future. But in the end, she still had to come around to a position where she would help pull Barrett over the finish line. The only saving grace for the Democrats at this point is that Collins will allow them to claim there was “bipartisan opposition” to Barrett’s confirmation.
Update (Ed): You know I hate to say “I told you so,” but … ah, that’s not true, I love to say “I told you so.” Murkowski’s language hinted at this all along:
However, there’s another possibility for both Murkowski and Collins, one that might explain why Murkowski’s playing coy about specifics. Both of them can register their objections to the process by voting against the procedural motion to go to the floor vote. Thanks to the nuking of the filibuster, McConnell only needs 51 votes to do that, too. Murkowski and Collins would then be free to claim they voted against the process, but that Barrett is so obviously qualified that their objections can’t be extended to the final vote on Barrett herself.
Collins faces a tough challenge for her seat in Maine, so she may end up a nay on the final vote too, or a no-show. Murkowski’s response today seems calculated to leave her enough room to separate the process from the nominee.
Even her original statement of opposition was entirely about process, not about voting against a nominee if the process took place anyway. Murkowski wisely kept her options open, and is about to eat her cake and have it too.