Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) are the Democrats’ final hopes in stopping President Trump’s upcoming nominee for the Supreme Court.
The two senators have previously broken with their party over abortion and dismantling the Affordable Care Act. And with the GOP holding a 51-to-49 majority in the Senate, their votes will almost certainly be needed for Trump’s eventual nominee to be confirmed, making them the most influential senators in the battle to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who announced Wednesday that he is retiring.
“It’s been kind of interesting in this firestorm. Afterward, everyone is focused on Lisa and Susan,” Murkowski said in an interview Thursday. “If I were John or Jerry or Bill, I’d say, ‘Wait a minute. How come I’m not being viewed as an important voice in this process?’”
Both will be the target of intense lobbying as Trump is expected to put forward a pick who would shift the court rightward, putting in play issues such as abortion, gay rights and the government’s role in health care.
But, the two senators are trying to play down their influence as the frenzy over the Supreme Court opening grows and the pressure on them builds.
Murkowski called the future of Roe v. Wade — the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide — a “significant factor,” but she stressed that in no way will that landmark ruling be the sole factor for her.
“And I don’t think it should be the only factor for anybody,” Murkowski said. “It’s not as if those are the only matters that come before the Supreme Court.”
Collins said Thursday that although she wouldn’t ask Trump’s pick how he or she would rule on specific issues, she always presses judicial nominees about their views on legal precedent.
“I do get a sense from them on whether or not they respect precedent,” Collins said. “And from my perspective, Roe v. Wade is an important precedent and it is settled law.”
The scrutiny the two senators face is far from unfamiliar. Collins is one of a dwindling core of moderate Republicans who have been willing to defect from the party on contentious issues, including abortion and guns. And like Collins, Murkowski has an independent streak — one that helped her win reelection in 2010 through a write-in campaign after she lost in the GOP primary. Both senators also opposed the nomination of Betsy DeVos as education secretary, forcing Vice President Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm her.
But they have been consistent “yes” votes on Trump’s picks for federal courts.
The two senators have voted on five of the most recent Supreme Court justices, with Collins serving as a reliable “yes” while Murkowski rejected both of President Barack Obama’s nominees: Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
Of the 25 names Trump has listed as potential justices, 17 have been confirmed by the Senate for federal judgeships, while two are pending. Murkowski has supported all of the candidates nominated during her time in the Senate while Collins voted against one: Judge William Pryor of the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
Collins and Murkowski — as well as a small cadre of moderate Democratic senators — are likely to receive heavy attention from Trump administration officials as the White House tries to secure support for the president’s yet-to-be-named nominee.
The two Republicans, as well as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and three Democrats who voted in favor of Gorsuch, met with Trump on Wednesday evening at the White House to discuss the vacancy, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
Marc Short, the White House’s director of legislative affairs, noted that he, Pence and White House counsel Donald McGahn had met with Collins, Murkowski and swing Democrats such as Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) as they considered Gorsuch last year.
“I think that you will see continued White House outreach,” Short said. “Stay tuned on the specifics.”