Murkowski keeps faith in Kavanaugh hearing

Reporters follow Sen. Murkowski everywhere, including the train that runs under the Capitol. Photo: Liz Ruskin

The allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh may have sexually assaulted a girl in high school has created fresh uncertainty over whether the Senate will confirm him, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski is in the middle of it.

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A scrum of reporters now forms around Murkowski whenever she appears in a Senate Hallway. On Tuesday, the swarm followed her onto the underground train that runs from the Capitol to the Senate office buildings. Reporters were pressing her to say what she thought of the plan to hold a hearing with only two witnesses: the nominee and the California professor accusing him, Christine Blasey Ford.

“The Democrats are saying it would be a sham hearing unless there’s an investigation and unless other witnesses are allowed to testify,” a Bloomberg reporter said.

“Oh, my goodness, my soul!” Murkowski lamented. “My goodness, my soul! Do you believe that?”

Murkowski defended the committee process and urged reporters not to discredit the hearing in advance. She recoiled at the suggestion of a “sham,” not necessarily at the idea of additional witnesses. At the time, she was under the impression investigators would interview Blasey Ford and that they would be part of the hearing, too.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has said committee staff are investigating. It’s not the FBI investigation Blasey Ford is calling for.

Away from the crowd, Murkowski said what she wants is a fair hearing that respects both the accuser and the accused.

“The public needs to have the confidence that this allegation is being taken seriously,” she said.

Exactly what the procedure should be, Murkowski said she doesn’t know. She’s not on the Judiciary Committee, the panel holding the hearing.

The new uncertainty lessens the likelihood that any Senate Democrats will vote for Kavanaugh, so his fate appears once again to rest on the two Republican swing votes: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Murkowski. Every word they say on the subject, and their demeanor while saying it, is reported and analyzed.

For Murkowski, the accusation is one factor. Before it became public, several Alaska Native groups were already urging her to vote no, largely because of his take on Indian law.

Murkowski said she spoke to Kavanaugh about AFN’s concerns. She said she went point-by-point through their letter with him, and she said she’s satisfied with his answers.

She said she’s convinced he accepts the legal status of Alaska Natives.

The concern arises out of an email and an essay he wrote years ago suggesting federal programs aimed at Native Hawaiians may be unconstitutional.

Since her earliest days in the Senate, Murkowski has been a proponent of federal recognition for Native Hawaiians.

“But that is not something that Congress has ever passed into law, so you have a distinction there,” she said.

Murkowski said Alaska Natives feel a bond with their Hawaiian counterparts, but Alaska tribes have federal recognition so that puts them in a different legal category. She said she’s convinced Kavanaugh gets that.

So as of now, Murkowski is reserving judgment on the 36-year-old assault accusation and Kavanaugh’s views on the legal status of Alaska Natives do not seem to weigh heavily as she contemplates her big decision: to confirm, or not to confirm.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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