Baucus quickly backtracks, will support Sotomayor

A day after twice declaring himself undecided on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Sen. Max BaucusMax BaucusFive reasons why Tillerson is likely to get through Business groups express support for Branstad nomination The mysterious sealed opioid report fuels speculation MORE (D-Mont.) on Friday announced he will support the judge.

Baucus acted quickly, releasing a statement that was picked up by the Great Falls Tribune and the Flathead Beacon. In the statement, Baucus calls Sotomayor “unquestionably qualified” for the court.

“I am proud to support her nomination and will vote to confirm her as a justice to the United States Supreme Court,” Baucus said.

On Thursday, Baucus told The Hill in two separate interviews that he has been too occupied with health reform to consider his vote on Sotomayor. The nominee is up for a Senate floor vote next week, but Baucus has also been at the center of controversy over his chairmanship of the chamber’s Finance Committee.

“I have no idea,” Baucus said Thursday. “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.”

Baucus’s action Friday quells what could have been a fierce controversy with the liberal side of the Democratic Party, which has been critical of his efforts to compromise with Republicans on health reform. Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee are even running ads against Baucus in his home state.

The senator’s support for Sotomayor also marks another blow to the National Rifle Association, which has now seen six of its endorsed senators back the nominee. The NRA is opposing Sotomayor and plans to “score” the vote in its future evaluations of senators. Baucus has an “A” ranking from the NRA.

The other five senators backed by the gun lobby who have announced support for Sotomayor are Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report Back to the future: Congress should look to past for Fintech going forward CNN to host town hall featuring John McCain, Lindsey Graham MORE (R-S.C.), Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderGOP governors confront Medicaid divide A guide to the committees: Senate Overnight Healthcare: Trump officials weigh fate of birth control mandate | House, DOJ seek delay in ObamaCare lawsuit MORE (R-Tenn.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Tim JohnsonTim JohnsonCourt ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada Bank lobbyists counting down to Shelby’s exit Former GOP senator endorses Clinton after Orlando shooting MORE (D-S.D.). Mark WarnerMark WarnerTop Senate Dem: ‘Grave concerns’ about independence of Russia probe Dems worry too much about upsetting others. That needs to stop. Washington-area lawmakers request GAO report on DC Metro MORE (D-Va.) has also compiled a pro-gun-rights record, but the NRA did not weigh in on his Senate race last year."

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence seized on the trend immediately Friday.

“If [the] NRA was hoping to intimidate senators in this vote, it looks like they're having the opposite effect,” said Brady Campaign spokesman Doug Pennington.

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

“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,” Warner said.

The NRA has not responded to a request for comment.

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.

Republicans Susan CollinsSusan CollinsLeaked ObamaCare bill would defund Planned Parenthood GOP lawmaker at town hall calls on Trump to release his tax returns GOP senator won't vote to defund Planned Parenthood MORE (Maine), Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) have also announced their support for Sotomayor.

In a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDem 2020 hopefuls lead pack in opposing Trump Cabinet picks Though flawed, complex Medicaid block grants have fighting chance Sanders: 'If you don't have the guts to face your constituents,' you shouldn't be in Congress MORE (R-Ky.) and Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSanders and Schumer are right: Ellison for DNC chair The Hill's 12:30 Report Hopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs MORE (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 wrote.

Baucus’s full statement on Friday: “The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, and the pinnacle of the judicial branch of our government. Being confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice is a tremendous honor with enormous responsibility. I have long said that to be a Supreme Court Justice a person must meet three main criteria: personal integrity, professional competence, and a view of important issues that is within the mainstream of contemporary judicial thought. After personally meeting Judge Sotomayor, thoroughly analyzing her judicial record, and reviewing her nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Sotomayor unquestionably meets each of these criteria. Thus, I am proud to support her nomination and will vote to confirm her as a Justice to the United States Supreme Court.”