Alaska’s Sen. Murkowski says she can’t rule out voting for Trump’s Supreme Court pick

A woman speaking at a podium
Senator Lisa Murkowski speaking in Anchorage, August 2020. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

If Democrats were counting on Lisa Murkowski to vote against President Trump’s next nominee to the Supreme Court, they should think again.

Sen. Murkowski said Tuesday she could not rule out that she would vote to confirm a Trump nominee if the Judiciary Committee approves one before the November election.

“I know everybody wants to ask the question, ‘will you confirm the nominee?’” she said outside the Capitol, as her Republican colleagues were gathering for their weekly policy lunch. “We don’t have a nominee yet. You and I don’t know who that is. And so I can’t confirm whether or not I can confirm a nominee when I don’t know who the nominee is.”

Sen. Mitt Romney took a similar position Tuesday, so it looks nearly impossible for Democrats to block Trump from seating his third Supreme Court justice.

Murkowski told Alaska Public Media last week, just before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, that she wanted to stick to the precedent set in 2016, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee because it was too close to an election.

“And so I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee,” she said Friday.

Related: Alaska Senator Murkowski said Friday she would not vote for a justice ahead of Inauguration Day

Murkowski said Tuesday she still opposes a Senate confirmation vote this close to an election. 

“I do not support this process moving forward,” she said. “Now, having said that, this process is moving forward with or without me.”

Murkowski said she did not know whether she would withhold her vote to protest the timing of the appointment, but she said the quality of the confirmation process would be a factor.

“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 said.

In 2016, she supported the Republic leadership’s decision not to hold a hearing on President Obama’s nominee because it was an election year. So did Sen. Dan Sullivan. Sullivan said then the decision not to advance Merrick Garland was about the principle of waiting for the electorate to speak.

“The next Supreme Court justice could fundamentally change the direction of the Court for years to come,” Sullivan said in 2016. “Alaskans deserve to have a voice in that direction through their vote, and we will ensure that they have one.” 

Now, Sullivan has a more nuanced take on the principle.

“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 in a press release Tuesday.

Trump has pledged to name a nominee by the end of the week. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham says he’ll “lead the charge” to hold a confirmation hearing and bring the nomination to the full Senate for a vote.

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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