Baucus: ‘No idea’ how he’ll vote on Sotomayor

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Thursday he hasn’t made up his mind on whether he will vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Baucus this summer has infuriated liberals on and off Capitol Hill by working to strike a deal with Republicans on healthcare reform. A “no” vote on Sotomayor would be adding fuel to the left’s fire at the Finance Committee chairman.

Baucus on Thursday twice told The Hill he is undecided on next week’s floor vote on Sotomayor.

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“I have no idea,” Baucus said. “I haven’t paid any attention and I haven’t announced … I’ve been so busy with healthcare. It’s under consideration. I’ll certainly know when I vote, but right now I can’t tell you.”

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has come out against Sotomayor, stating it will factor the vote into its legislative scorecard because the group feels the nominee would curb gun rights.

Baucus had an A rating from the NRA in 2008, as did two other Senate Democrats who ran last year: Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Mark Warner of Virginia.

Johnson supports Sotomayor’s nomination.

Warner told The Hill on Thursday he intends to support Sotomayor — and that he was “very disappointed” in the gun lobby. Warner also said he is not worried that Sotomayor will restrict the rights of gun owners.

“I’m very disappointed. [NRA seems] to be going beyond their Second Amendment issues, particularly when I think the judge’s positions on those issues are still fairly open,” Warner said. “I trust in her judgment and temperament. I think the NRA at some point has gone beyond its mission, and are perhaps allowing themselves to get hijacked by those who are in the extreme.”

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Baucus “no” vote against President Barack Obama’s high-court nominee would attract national headlines. It would also create a politically awkward situation with the White House as it is trying to prod Baucus to produce a healthcare reform bill.

Liberal groups are incensed at Baucus for his refusal to embrace the so-called public option in revamping the nation’s healthcare system. Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee are running ads against Baucus in Montana on the issue.

Baucus voted to confirm John Roberts, President George W. Bush’s nominee for chief justice. He later voted against now-Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

Fellow Democrat Jon Tester of Montana said he also has traditionally received NRA support, while noting that he will support Sotomayor.

Tester said he pressed Sotomayor on gun-rights issues during his private meeting with her and, like Warner, feels comfortable with the nominee.

“I think she’ll be fine on gun rights. I asked about some of her past cases, and I just think she’s going to be fine,” Tester said.

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Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who has an A rating from the NRA, on Thursday announced his support of Sotomayor. Other Republicans who say they will vote yes on her nomination are: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Mel Martinez (Fla.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).

In a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week, the NRA cited two controversial decisions in Sotomayor’s past: Maloney v. Cuomo, in which she ruled the Second Amendment did not apply to state and local governments, and United States v. Sanchez-Villar, in which she found that gun ownership is not a fundamental right.

“We believe any individual who does not agree that the Second Amendment guarantees a fundamental right and who does not respect our God-given right of self-defense should not serve on any court, much less the highest court in the land,” the NRA’s letter reads.