To stop the nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, liberal activists are trying to re-create a play from last year.
In July 2017, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to defy GOP leaders and defeat legislation to scrap the Affordable Care Act. Now, with McCain home battling brain cancer, the two moderate Republicans are in the crosshairs of well-organized campaigns that are expected to pour millions of dollars in advertising into the small-market towns throughout Maine and Alaska.
Activists want to pressure Collins and Murkowski into opposing Kavanaugh, and they’re highlighting the judge’s rulings on the ACA and abortion as potential red flags. If Collins and Murkowski opposed Kavanaugh, that would be enough to defeat his nomination, assuming all 49 members of the Democratic caucus held together.
Both Republicans remain adamant that they have not made a decision on how they will vote on Kavanaugh, but the two battles — over health care and the Supreme Court nominee — are not the same.
In separate interviews, Collins and Murkowski said constituents view the health-care debate and the Supreme Court very differently.
The Supreme Court battle has not reached top-tier status in Maine, based on crowd reactions during the past two Fourth of July parades in which Collins marched.
At the 2017 parade in Eastport, the state’s largest, every single constituent talked about one issue: How would Collins vote on the ACA repeal later that month?
This year’s parade, in her hometown of Bangor, the crowd asked about the issue of child separations of undocumented immigrants crossing the border and “a whole host of issues,” she said.
Collins said she thinks there is less constituent involvement because “health care is so personal and affects everybody.”
The media campaign though, Collins said, actually feels “far heavier” this summer than last year.
On Friday, she faced a few protesters outside a lobster bake in Portland. They complained about President Trump’s campaign promise to appoint judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade and warned about potential rulings against the ACA.
Demand Justice, the group leading the liberal coalition’s multimillion-dollar opposition to Kavanaugh, posted a video of the interaction and encouraged Mainers to call the senator’s office to demand she oppose the nominee.
However, so far, Collins said the number of contacts from constituents — phone calls, emails, letters — does not approach the level of the health-care debate.
The decision for Collins, then, is not likely to turn on political pressure. She is convening meetings every other day with her top staff, as well as three former aides who are lawyers, to pore over Kavanaugh’s rulings and writings.
During the debate over ACA last summer, Murkowski said she was hearing “very personal stories” from constituents in Alaska. It was a “different level of intensity” then, she said.
With the Supreme Court, people are “worried about what might happen if” an issue makes its way to the justices, Murkowski said, rather than the direct emotional appeals of last summer.
While home one weekend during the ACA debate, Murkowski went to help her son at his farmers market stand in Anchorage, and it turned into an impromptu town hall. “Usually, I just help him sell pasta, but last summer, there were more people who were lined up to talk to me,” she said.
Murkowski has been busy managing debate on an annual spending bill, so she expects to begin digging into the issue of the Supreme Court nomination when she returns to Alaska early next month during a brief Senate recess.
Like Collins, she expects to schedule her meeting with Kavanaugh in mid-August. Unlike last summer, her vote may hinge on that one conversation rather than hearing the personal stories of many Alaskans.