Murkowski votes ‘No’ but Kavanaugh nomination advances

Sen. Lisa Murkowski. (Image: C-SPAN)

Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court is cleared for likely passage, but without the help of Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She said she found Kavanaugh’s angry, confrontational demeanor at a Senate hearing last week to be a breach of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

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She cast the lone Republican “no” vote Friday on ending debate so the Senate can proceed to a final vote on confirmation.

Murkowski took to the Senate floor Friday evening to explain. She said the bar is extremely high for a Supreme Court justice. Even if he’s accused of attempted rape, as Kavanaugh was last week, Murkowski said he needs to follow the rules for displaying judicial temperament

“Even in the face of the worst thing that could happen, a sexual assault allegation, even in the face of an … overtly political process, a politicized process,” Murkowski said, ” … even in these situations, the standard is that a judge must act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence” in the impartiality of the judiciary.

Misty Nickoli of Fairbanks is one of the Alaskans who flew to Washington, D.C. to urge Sen. Murkowski to vote no on Kavanaugh. Photo: Liz Ruskin

The vote was 51-49, so Murkowski’s “no” wasn’t decisive.

Kavanaugh is very close now to confirmation. Two senators who seemed on the fence, Susan Collins and Joe Manchin, say they will confirm.

But outside Murkowski’s D.C. office shortly after the morning vote, a few dozen Alaskans who oppose Kavanaugh were celebrating their senior senator.

“Thank you to Sen. Murkowski. Stay strong. Alaska is behind you,” said organizer Molly Haigh, to cheers from the crowd.

Some 150 Alaskans or more have flown to Washington in recent days to lobby Murkowski in person, many of them sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union. There are so many that Murkowski has had to meet with them in groups of 18.

“Half of the women in our group had been raped sexually assaulted,” said Diana Rhoades, of Anchorage, who had one of the mass appointments. “It was so powerful. Everyone was crying. She was so strong, Lisa, and she said … ‘I feel like I’ve sunk six feet from the weight of your testimony, your stories.'”

Many of the Alaskans told Murkowski it would put a cloud over the Supreme Court to elevate a man accused of attempted rape to that bench. They said it would tell victims what happened to them means nothing.

Murkowski said she didn’t make up her mind until she walked into the Senate chamber for the vote. She said last week she found Kavanaugh’s  initial accuser, Christine Blasey Ford “very credible.” But she’s not condemning Kavanaugh’s character.

“I believe Brett Kavanaugh’s a good man,” she told reporters after her vote. “It just may be that in my view he’s not the right man for the court at this time.”

Murkowski said she’s been wrestling with competing values – fairness to the nominee, vs. the perceived fairness of Congress and the courts.

She said she respects her colleagues who support the judge, but “I think we’re at a place where we need to begin thinking about the credibility and integrity of our institutions.”

It’s bad for the country if people who are victims feel the system lacks fairness, Murkows said.

The final vote is expected Saturday. Murkowski said she will actually vote “present” to help out Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who is at his daughter’s wedding. He would vote “yes” if he were here, likely resulting in a 51-49 tally. The Daines-Murkowski agreement deducts one vote from each side, leading to the same outcome.