Politics

Murkowski, in a Turnabout, Says She Will Vote to Confirm Barrett

WASHINGTON — Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who has vocally opposed filling the vacant seat on the Supreme Court so close to an election, said on Saturday that she would nonetheless vote to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett next week.

“While I oppose the process that has led us to this point,” Ms. Murkowski said in a speech on the Senate floor, “I do not hold it against her as an individual who has navigated the gauntlet with grace, skill and humility.”

Her unexpected turnabout gave a boost to Senate Republicans looking to quiet intraparty dissent in the face of unified Democratic opposition. They already had the votes they needed to confirm Judge Barrett, President Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee, but Ms. Murkowski’s support means that only one Republican — Senator Susan Collins of Maine — is likely to defect when the roll is called on Monday.

The development came as a divided Senate slogged through another day of debate over Judge Barrett, 48, an appeals court judge whose confirmation would lock in a 6-to-3 conservative majority on the court. Democrats again turned to parliamentary tactics to draw out the process and needle Republicans for confirming a justice so close to Election Day.

Amid the scripted partisan theatrics, Ms. Murkowski’s 16-minute speech stood out as a rare moment of suspense. An iconoclast willing to occasionally buck her party, Ms. Murkowski had been one of the lone voices in her party joining Democrats last month to push back against the decision to quickly fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ms. Murkowski repeated those concerns on Saturday, warning that the rush by her fellow Republicans to fill the seat would “reinforce the public perception about political influence on the court.” She lamented decades of partisan escalation in the Senate over judicial nominations.

“Moving forward on a nominee just over a week removed from a pitched presidential election when partisan tensions are running about as high as they could — I don’t think that this will help our country become a better version of itself,” she said.

Ms. Murkowski said she would still join Democrats in trying to filibuster the nomination on Sunday.

But after meeting with Judge Barrett in recent days, Ms. Murkowski said she came away impressed and concluded she was unwilling to punish a qualified nominee because her party insisted on moving ahead.

“Frankly,” she added, “I lost that procedural fight.”

Ms. Murkowski, who is up for re-election in Alaska in 2022, has frequently broken with Republicans on significant votes in the last four years. She was the only member of her party in 2018 to oppose Mr. Trump’s last nominee to the Supreme Court, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, earning her the vitriol of the president and some of his staunchest supporters.

Like Ms. Collins, Ms. Murkowski voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act and is a proponent of abortion rights. With her latest decision, Ms. Murkowski now risks stirring up a backlash from the left, which believes Judge Barrett’s confirmation threatens those very issues.

It could be forceful. After Ms. Collins supported Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation in 2018, she became the top target of liberals across the country, who poured millions of dollars into her Democratic opponents’ coffers. Two years later, polls suggest she could lose re-election next month thanks, in large part, to that vote.

The comparison to Ms. Collins is not a perfect one, though. The fight over Justice Kavanaugh was a bitter affair that consumed the nation in a debate over general and sexual violence after he was accused during the proceedings of sexual assault. In this case, polling suggests a majority of the public, including many Democrats, support confirming Judge Barrett. What’s more, Alaska tends to be a more conservative state than Maine, and Ms. Murkowski is so well known that she won a write-in campaign in 2010 after losing the Republican primary.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the group was “deeply disappointed” by Ms. Murkowski’s intended vote in support of Judge Barrett.

“Her extreme views should be disqualifying for anyone who claims to be a champion for women and families,” Ms. Hogue said.

Ms. Murkowski made only glancing comments to abortion rights or the Affordable Care Act during her floor speech, but they suggested she had been reassured by Judge Barrett about how the two issues would fare by the nation’s highest court in the future. She dodged reporters in the Capitol after the speech.

“It was important for me to hear and to better understand her views on precedence and her evaluation process, specifically the weight that she affords reliance on decisions that have been in place for decades, such as Roe v. Wade,” she said in her remarks.

She said she also discussed with the nominee the issue of “severability,” a legal doctrine that could lead to the preservation of the Affordable Care Act when the Supreme Court hears a challenge seeking to invalidate it just after the election.

“I do not believe Judge Barrett will take her seat on the bench with a predetermined agenda or with a goal of putting a torch to every volume of the United States Reports,” she said, referring to the official bound volumes of Supreme Court opinions.

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