The fate of the Supreme Court could ride on these 2 senators
Sen. Susan Collins took a notable phone call Thursday as she enters the eye of the Supreme Court confirmation storm: It was White House counsel Don McGahn, sounding out the moderate Maine Republican in what she called a “preliminary discussion” of the high court vacancy.
Republicans control the Senate by a single seat and Arizona Sen. John McCain has been absent for months. That means any single GOP senator has enormous sway over President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick.
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None matter more than Collins and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who also received her own call from McGahn on Thursday.
A year ago, the two moderate Republicans, along with McCain, stopped Obamacare repeal in its tracks while helping to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Now, as they weigh how to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, the two are about to be squeezed more than ever — by liberals seeking a Republican to stop the court from outlawing abortion rights, among other potential conservative rulings, and by their fellow Republicans looking for a show of party unity on a hugely consequential vote.
But the two senators said Thursday they won’t simply fall in line behind whomever Trump nominates.
“There’s pressure because of the gravity of such a nomination,” Murkowski acknowledged. “I am not going to suggest that my opportunity as a senator in the advise and consent process is somehow or other short-cutted just because this is a Republican president and I’m a Republican.”
“No matter how I vote there are going to be people who are furious at me,” Collins said. She added that she views her vote as immune from partisan pressure because “it’s a Supreme Court nominee. It’s not the assistant deputy secretary for weights and measures at the Commerce Department. This is a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. It matters.”
Both senators suggested Trump need not pull a judge from his list of potential nominees, a document filled with down-the-line conservatives that would dramatically shift the balance of the court to the right. Collins said an “outside group” should not be dictating whom the Senate considers; Murkowski said Trump has already kept his commitment to the list by elevating Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and should extend his search beyond that list.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) met privately with Murkowski about the Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon, though she declined to comment on the nature of the conversation.
GOP leaders are already advising Trump to draft a justice who is restrained in rhetoric and that the president try to appeal to moderates. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said a nominee who stated to senators that he or she would “work hard to overrule these precedents … that’s going to cause a lot of problems” for centrist senators.
A buttoned-up justice with somewhat opaque views on hot-button issues might be more palatable to Murkowski and Collins, Cornyn suggested.
Though the duo rejected the GOP’s effort to nix Obamacare, they also voted for Gorsuch. And most Republicans anticipate they will ultimately get behind Trump’s next pick.
“I expect the Republicans to back the nominee, whoever it is,” said Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, a close Trump ally. “I would never tell anybody how to vote but this is one where the president’s demonstrated he will put forward a very reasonable candidate.”