Murkowski’s No Vote on Kavanaugh Shows High Pressure on Both Parties

(Bloomberg) -- Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski opposition to advancing the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and Democrat Joe Manchin’s backing for his confirmation illustrate the slim political margin that lawmakers are operating under just weeks before the first midterm election of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Murkowski and Manchin both broke with their parties in Friday’s 51-49 vote to move toward a full Senate vote on Kavanaugh, whose nomination by Trump has become emblematic of the nation’s deep political divide. The appeals court judge now has enough support to win confirmation to the high court.

Murkowski’s No Vote on Kavanaugh Shows High Pressure on Both Parties

“In my view he’s not the best man for the court at this time,” Murkowski told reporters after her vote. “This has truly been the most difficult evaluation of a decision that I have ever had to make.”

Alaska’s Murkowski has supported abortion rights, and state officials have raised concerns about Kavanaugh’s views on tribal rights, an important issue in her state. Alaska’s governor and lieutenant governor, both of whom are running for re-election as independents, had announced their opposition to Kavanaugh.

Local Concerns

The Alaskan has staked her political career on being attentive to local concerns and interests. In 2010 she won her Senate re-election race as a write-in candidate, a rarity, after she was defeated in the Republican primary by a conservative Tea Party candidate.

While Murkowski won’t have to run for the Senate again until 2022, Manchin is up for re-election on Nov. 6 in West Virginia, a state Trump won by a wide margin. Manchin has remained popular in the state in part by cultivating an image of independence. The few polls of West Virginia voters ahead of next month’s vote have shown him with a lead over Republican Patrick Morrisey, the state’s attorney general.

Minutes after Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins announced on the Senate floor that she would provide a pivotal "yes" vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Manchin released a statement saying he also would support the nominee.

“I have reservations about this vote given the serious accusations against Judge Kavanaugh and the temperament he displayed in the hearing,” Manchin said. “However, based on all of the information I have available to me, including the recently completed FBI report, I have found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist who will follow the Constitution and determine cases based on the legal findings before him.”

Another Democrat facing a tough re-election battle in a Trump state, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, announced Thursday she’d vote against Kavanaugh. Her opponent, Republican Representative Kevin Cramer, accused her of deciding to “vote with Chuck Schumer, and not the people of North Dakota.” Schumer, a New York Democrat, is the Senate minority leader. Two polls taken in the state last month showed Cramer with a comfortable lead.

Toss-Up Contests

The other four Democrats in toss-up re-election contests -- Florida’s Bill Nelson, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and Montana’s Jon Tester -- also voted against advancing Kavanaugh. But in a sign of the delicate political balance, Democrat Phil Bredesen, who’s running in a close race for an open Senate seat in heavily Republican Tennessee, said they he would have voted “yes” on Kavanaugh’s confirmation had he been in office.

Another Republican who had been publicly wrestling with the decision, Arizona’s Jeff Flake, told reporters that he’ll support Kavanaugh’s confirmation when it comes to a vote on Saturday.

As the Senate roll call proceeded on Friday, Murkowski knew the outcome wasn’t in doubt by the time it came to her. She looked down for a while, closed her eyes, then looked up and seemed to have resolved any doubt on how she would vote. She then stood up, and softly said “no.”

Kavanaugh’s nomination was destined to become part of a partisan fight coming as it did amid the congressional election campaign. But the intensity accelerated after Christine Blasey Ford, a California college professor, accused him of sexually assaulting her when they both were in high school. Kavanaugh has vehemently denied the charge, as well as accusations of sexual misconduct by two other women.

Both parties have reported a surge in donations and voter interest since the accusations against Kavanaugh became public just weeks before midterm elections that will decide control of Congress. While Democrats are in good position to take the House majority from Republicans, the party has a more difficult path in the Senate.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.