Collins, Murkowski to play pivotal role in Supreme Court abortion battle

Collins, Murkowski to play pivotal role in Supreme Court abortion battle

The high-stakes abortion battle looming over President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall MORE’s next Supreme Court pick will likely be decided by two GOP senators: Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOn The Money: Senate Dems to introduce resolution blocking Trump emergency declaration | Banks made billion in extra profits thanks to GOP tax law | IRS analyst charged with leaking Cohen's financial records Senate Dems to introduce resolution blocking Trump's emergency declaration The Hill's Morning Report - What to watch for as Mueller’s probe winds down MORE of Maine and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate Dems to introduce resolution blocking Trump's emergency declaration GOP Sen. Collins says she'll back resolution to block Trump's emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump escalates fight with NY Times MORE of Alaska.

The two women are viewed as potential swing votes because they’ve made a series of high-profile breaks with their party over health care — voting against an ObamaCare repeal measure, a bill allowing states to deny Planned Parenthood federal family planning funding and legislation that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks.

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For Democrats to be able to sink Trump’s nominee — a major win in an election year — they’ll need to win over at least one GOP senator.

Republicans nixed the 60-vote filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, meaning they can be confirmed with a simple majority. With a 51-seat majority and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) absent, Republicans have to keep their caucus united or pick up red-state Democrats if they want to get Trump’s pick confirmed.

Collins and Murkowski are already facing mounting pressure from both sides. So far, they have stopped short of taking firm positions on whether they would oppose a nominee viewed as anti-abortion or likely to overturn or chip away at Roe v. Wade.

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement on Wednesday that he'll retire after 30 years on the bench roiled Washington and sparked questions and concerns about the future of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that established a right to abortion.

Kennedy was the fifth vote in a 1992 case upholding that decision. And Democrats are seizing on the issue, which could help energize their voters heading into the November midterm elections.

Collins told reporters immediately following Kennedy’s announcement that she would prefer a moderate nominee.

“I view Roe v. Wade as being settled law,” she said. “It’s clearly precedent, and I always look for judges who respect precedent.”

When asked if she had any concerns about the likelihood of the nominee being a swing vote in any abortion-related cases, Collins said it was impossible for her to have concerns now because she doesn't know who the nominee is.

When asked a similar question, Murkowski sidestepped naming abortion rights as a deciding factor.

“I think it’s fair to say that on the limited occasions that I have had an opportunity to weigh in on a Supreme Court justice, it is scrutinizing every aspect of an individual,” she told reporters.

“Roe is one of those factor that I will weigh,” Murkowski added. “Is it the only factor that I weigh? No.”

Murkowski has drawn fire from Democrats and Republicans for her stance on abortion, and she was pressed on the issue during her 2016 reelection campaign.

“I do not like abortion," she said during a debate at the time. "But I recognize that the Supreme Court, through Roe v. Wade, has said that a woman has the right, that reproductive right, to choose, and I have supported that.”

The willingness of the two senators to buck the GOP on abortion, coupled with the party’s razor-thin margin in the Senate, makes them key votes for both sides.

Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, told reporters Thursday that Vice President Pence and White House staffers sat down with Collins and Murkowski before President Trump nominated Justice Neil Gorsuch.

"I think if you look back to the last nomination, there was an intentional effort to reach out and get their thoughts,” Short said. “And I would imagine that a similar process would happen this time."

White House legal counsel Don McGahn, one of the staffers who took part in the previous meetings, called Collins on Thursday to discuss the upcoming Supreme Court vacancy.

Collins and Murkowski were among six senators who met with Trump on Thursday evening to discuss the court vacancy, according to a statement from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Republicans have downplayed the importance of abortion in the upcoming nomination fight.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePoll: 33% of Kentucky voters approve of McConnell Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union MORE (Ariz.) said he wants a nominee who will abide by the Constitution, while Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynInviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Trump endorses Cornyn for reelection as O'Rourke mulls challenge O’Rourke not ruling out being vice presidential candidate MORE (Texas) predicted the caucus would stick together to confirm Trump’s pick.

“Every senator has got to make up their own mind,” Cornyn said when asked about Collins and Murkowski. “It is disqualifying, in my opinion, for someone to campaign for a federal judicial bench, including the Supreme Court, based on a political or partisan or ideological agenda.”

Democrats are already homing in on the two GOP senators, arguing they can’t claim to be for women’s reproductive rights and then support someone who would side against upholding Roe v. Wade.

“This is a legacy vote,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support House passes bill to end US support for Saudi war in Yemen This week: Border deal remains elusive as shutdown looms MORE (D-Conn.). “I don’t think you can say you’re pro-choice if you cast a vote that will be looked upon as the one that criminalized abortion.”

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharHarry Reid says he won’t make 2020 endorsement until after Nevada caucus Gillibrand to appear on Fox News Monday night Overnight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run MORE (D-Minn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said the upcoming Supreme Court fight “will be a very big moment” for Collins and Murkowski.

Democrats are getting help from outside progressive groups who are urging voters to immediately begin efforts to sway Collins and Murkowski.

"We have had support in the past from Sens. Collins and Murkowski around the defunding of Planned Parenthood, around the protection of Roe v. Wade, and we believe that is a very important piece of this puzzle,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president for Planned Parenthood.

Jessie Hellmann contributed. Updated at 9:53 p.m. EDT.