Murkowski, Romney, Collins, Emerge As Supreme Court Swing Votes


Addendum: Susan Collins announced she is a yes vote.

Democrats are trying to lock down at least one GOP vote as they head toward confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson for a seat on the Supreme Court.

The push to find a Republican to support Jackson comes as the White House and top Democrats are pivoting to the final stage of her nomination fight after she emerged largely unscathed from high-profile committee hearings.

The list of potential GOP supporters is growing increasingly smaller as Republicans come off the fence. But Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Mitt Romney (Utah) are seen as the most likely swing votes among the 50-member caucus.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 GOP senator, predicted that Jackson won’t get more than roughly three Republican votes but noted that it wouldn’t necessarily be the same three that voted last year for her to take an appeals court post. At the time, Collins, Murkowski, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) backed her.

“I think the universe of votes that she could get in the Senate among Republicans is probably similar to what happened in the appeals court,” Thune said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is ramping up his outreach to Republicans this week after focusing on navigating Jackson’s confirmation hearing last week and setting up a committee vote for Monday.

“This is an important week. I think now is the time for me to reach out more,” Durbin said.

Durbin declined to weigh in on Thune’s ceiling for GOP support but described his outreach to Republicans as going “good.”

Democrats want to confirm Jackson by the time the Senate leaves for a two-week break on April 8. They could confirm her on their own – assuming all their members support her and are present – but getting at least one Republican would let President Biden tout her nomination as bipartisan and avoid a history-making tie vote on the first Black female justice.

But Republican opposition to Jackson is hardening. Thune on Tuesday formally joined with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in opposing Jackson’s nomination.

Collins is viewed as the most likely GOP “yes” vote. Collins has voted for every Supreme Court nominee since she joined the Senate – including two of former President Obama’s – except Justice Amy Coney Barrett. She opposed Barrett because her nomination came up so shortly before the 2020 election and not because of concerns about her qualifications.

Collins had a follow up meeting with Jackson over after meeting with her in person for roughly 90 minutes earlier this month. Collins said she had questions stemming from Jackson’s answers from her days-long public hearing.

“I need clarifications,” Collins said.

Murkowski declined to discuss Jackson’s nomination on Tuesday, noting that she wasn’t talking about anything besides the late Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), whose memorial service she attended in the Capitol.

But Murkowski said this week that she’s still reviewing Jackson’s nomination. A spokesperson declined to comment on if she had set up a follow-up call with Jackson for additional questions.

Murkowski has voted for more of Biden’s court picks than most of the caucus, but her Supreme Court vote is being closely watched because she’s up for reelection and facing a Trump-backed primary challenger.

Murkowski opposed both of Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, also when she was up for reelection. She additionally opposed Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh – though she voted “present” to offset a colleague who missed the vote – but supported Barrett and Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Murkowski has made clear that her support for a nominee on a lower court doesn’t mean she would be an automatic “yes” on a Supreme Court nomination, saying that there was a “big, big difference.”

“As far I’m concerned, everybody is starting with a fresh page,” Murkowski previously told The Hill.

Graham, meanwhile, is widely viewed as a “no” vote after being vocally critical of Jackson’s sentencing decisions. He also used the Judiciary Committee hearing to air grievances over the treatment of previous Supreme Court nominees nominated by Republican presidents.

Graham, in a string of tweets on Tuesday, pushed for more information from the White House on Jackson’s sentencing in child pornography cases.

“When it comes [to] a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, this is the least the White House, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and nominee can do for the process,” Graham said.

Beyond the three GOP senators who voted for her last year, there are several GOP senators who haven’t yet said how they will vote. Thune noted that some Republicans will likely wait until next week to announce their decisions as they try to do their homework.

“There are some of our members who are doing their due diligence. … I don’t think we’ll ultimately, until next week rolls around, figure out where people are,” he said.

Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the only Black Republican in the upper chamber, declined on Tuesday to comment on Jackson’s nomination.

Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), one of several retiring GOP senators, told reporters that he hadn’t yet decided on if he’ll support Jackson.

But Romney is viewed as the most likely potential “yes” vote among Republicans who opposed her nomination last year.

Romney has indicated that he has an open mind on the nomination. He met with Jackson on Tuesday and said that he would dig into her judicial philosophy and her rulings. Romney indicated that he could wait until the day of Jackson’s confirmation vote to signal if he will support her.

“Judge Jackson and I had a wide-ranging discussion about her experience and qualifications. Her dedication to public service and her family are obvious, and I enjoyed our meeting,” Romney said.

“I appreciate the time she spent answering my questions, which was helpful as I continue my review of her record and testimony,” he added.