Murkowski: I haven't changed my mind on a confirmation before the election

It’s more of a curiosity than a problem, but Lisa Murkowski apparently didn’t get moved off her position on confirmation despite meeting personally with Amy Coney Barrett. At the time that Donald Trump appointed her to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Murkowski threw the process in doubt by announcing her opposition to moving forward on the opening regardless of the nominee. Since then, Murkowski has been careful to parse her statements on Barrett’s specific confirmation.

Until today … perhaps:

The Alaska lawmaker, who met with the conservative nominee earlier this week, would join the likes of Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the only other Republican who plans to vote against the Trump nominee on Monday. Barrett’s nomination was advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday by unanimous consent after Democrats boycotted the vote.

“I’ve shared for a while that I didn’t think we should be taking this up until after the election, and I haven’t changed,” Murkowski said, according to a congressional pool report.

Asked explicitly whether she would be a “no” vote, the third-term senator responded: “That means I haven’t changed my mind on that.”

Point of order for Newsweek: “Unanimous consent” has a specific parliamentary meaning. The Judiciary Committee moved Barrett’s nomination not on unanimous consent but on a roll-call vote this morning. Unanimous consent is a passive way to move bills and procedural votes. The video of this morning’s proceedings shows the clerk calling the roll and getting a 12-0 result, which means this was much more intentional than “unanimous consent.”

Procedural distinctions like this are important to understand when it comes to Murkowski. At this point, Mitch McConnell might be satisfied is she and Susan Collins just sat out the vote. With Mitt Romney on board — early and often, as it turns out — McConnell has 51 votes. All 47 Democrats (or as many as show up) can be expected to vote against, including Joe Manchin and Doug Jones. A 51-47 party-line vote will look a wee bit better than a 51-49 result with “bipartisan” opposition.

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. Since this is all but a done deal, Murkowski’s final vote is about all of the drama that’s left.