Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is softening her stance against a nomination by President Donald Trump to the Supreme Court, and it may sink Senate Democrats' hopes of blocking a vote to fill the vacancy before the November presidential election.
Last week, Murkowski said she did not approve of a vote to fill the high court vacancy left by the recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg until after the election.
Now, she says even though she doesn't support the process moving forward, it's moving forward "with or without [her]" and she can't say whether or not she'll support a Trump nomination.
“If I had felt that there was a rush to move this through because you’re up against a deadline that is hard and fast, like an election, and that a nominee had not been thoroughly and fairly evaluated through our process, then I’m going to have to look at that,” she told Alaska Public Media's Liz Ruskin Tuesday afternoon.
Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan has taken a more concrete stance on the matter, confirming in a statement Tuesday that he fully supports a vote before the election.
This is opposite the position Sullivan took in 2016 when then-President Barack Obama sought to appoint Washington, D.C. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court 232 days before the election. Sullivan said at that time that "Alaskans deserve to have a voice in that direction through their vote, and we will ensure that they have one.”
In his Tuesday statement, Sullivan defended the difference between his 2016 position and his current stances as standard partisan politics.
"The historical precedent and principle of an election year nomination to the Supreme Court, dating back to the founding of our republic, is that the Senate has generally confirmed a president’s nominee from its own party and not confirmed one from the opposing party," Sullivan said. "President Trump is well within his constitutional authority to nominate an individual for the Supreme Court vacancy, and the Senate will undertake its advice and consent responsibilities on confirmation, as authorized by the Constitution."
As it currently stands, there are not enough Republican senators who oppose a vote prior to the election to block a nomination.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins told reporters she will not vote for a Supreme Court nomination until after the election. But, with Murkowski's indecision on the matter compounded with other "presumed maybe" votes like Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney voicing support for the process, it would now take an extreme shift from multiple senators to derail the process.
A simple majority vote is needed to approve a Trump nomination in the Senate. There are 53 Republicans. If the chamber ties 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence, sitting as Senate president, would be called on to cast the tie-breaking vote, meaning four Republicans would need to oppose a nomination to block the vote.
Currently, no other Republican senators have announced plans to vote against the majority on the matter.
If a nominee is confirmed while Trump is president, it would be Trump’s third Supreme Court nomination, the first being Justice Neal Gorsuch in 2017 and the second being a controversial nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year.
The Supreme Court nomination process typically involves a series of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee and individual meetings with senators if they so choose. It remains to be seen how or if hearings will be held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump is expected to name his choice to fill the vacancy on Saturday.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.