Collins and Murkowski face recess pressure cooker on Supreme Court

Collins and Murkowski face recess pressure cooker on Supreme Court
© Getty Images

GOP Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRed dresses displayed around American Indian museum to memorialize missing, murdered native women Juan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks Overnight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' MORE (Maine), seen as potential swing votes on President TrumpDonald John TrumpHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Countdown clock is on for Mueller conclusions Omar: White supremacist attacks are rising because Trump publicly says 'Islam hates us' MORE’s Supreme Court nominee, are facing intense pressure from activists during their August recess.

The two moderate GOP senators could make or break whether or not Brett Kavanaugh gets confirmed, and, despite badgering from reporters around the Capitol, they’ve offered few hints about where they will come down on Trump’s nominee.

“Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski … those are the most important Republicans,” said Brad Woodhouse, the executive director of Protect Our Care. “I have every reason to believe that if Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins came out against this nomination, there would be a majority to oppose [him].”

With Republicans holding a fragile 51-seat majority, Democrats can’t block Kavanaugh on their own. Their strategy depends on keeping their own caucus — including several senators vulnerable in November — undeclared long enough for public pressure to sway either Collins or Murkowski to vote against him.

It’s a game plan that’s failed them on recent high-stakes nomination fights, including Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoFive things to watch as AIPAC conference kicks off US sanctions Venezuelan bank after Guaidó aide's arrest The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game MORE to be secretary of State and Gina Haspel to lead the CIA.

ADVERTISEMENT

But progressives are hoping that by focusing on pre-existing conditions or the potential that Kavanaugh could vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, they’ll repeat last year’s playbook, which allowed them to block the repeal of ObamaCare.

“We've definitely gotten some [calls] on both sides,” a spokeswoman for Murkowski told The Hill on Tuesday about outreach to the GOP senator’s D.C. office. She added that Murkowski did a tele-town hall with constituents last week and the nomination “did come up with a couple of the callers.”

Neither Collins nor Murkowski’s office have publicly quantified the level of constituent outreach they’re getting over Kavanaugh. But the two recently told The Washington Post that their constituents viewed the nomination fight differently from that on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with Collins saying she had received less outreach over the court battle.

But outside groups want to use the Senate’s roughly two-week recess to change that. They argue the break — where senators will be back in their home states for the longest period of time since early April — gives voters a chance buttonhole the two senators in person and is “crucial” to making sure they feel pressure to oppose Kavanaugh.

“I feel like what our job is to do is to make sure that every one of those people has the opportunity to talk to their senator as they come home for recess,” said Kelley Robinson, the national organizing director for Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Planned Parenthood supporters are taking part in more than 100 separate actions on the high court over the recess, including voter education, letter writing and phone banking to target key senators, including Collins and Murkowski. Meanwhile, Protect Our Care is launching new TV and radio ads in Maine, Alaska and Nevada.

Collins and Murkowski aren’t the only Republicans on whom progressives are focused. Other targets include Tennessee and Arizona — the respective homes of GOP Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump keeps tight grip on GOP Brexit and exit: A transatlantic comparison Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar Trump keeps tight grip on GOP MORE, both vocal Trump critics — as well as Nevada, where Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE is the only Republican senator running for reelection in a state won by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Ex-Clinton aide: Dems should make 2020 'about integrity' Trump mounts Rust Belt defense MORE.

But Collins and Murkowski are viewed as the Republicans most likely to flip after they broke with their party on other high-profile fights, including the nomination of Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosCelebrity college scandal exposes deeper issues in academic system Trump signs executive order on campus free speech Student loan debt: The government broke it, and must fix it MORE and a bill to ban most abortions after 20 weeks — in addition to ObamaCare repeal.

So far they’ve refused to be pinned down on Kavanaugh and offered few hints that attacks from either side have impacted their thinking.

Collins, who has had near daily meetings on the Supreme Court, said she plans to ask Kavanaugh about health care and executive authority, two issues important to Democrats. She also warned that those who were assuming she’s an automatic "yes" are wrong.

“I never reach a conclusion until after I’ve had the one-on-one sit down meeting and also the hearings have been held. You never know what’s going to happen at a hearing,” Collins told reporters before the Senate left town for the recess.

Asked about the argument that Kavanaugh could throw out ACA as a whole or its protections for pre-existing conditions, Murkowski said separately that she wasn’t “convinced that he's going to throw out or retain anything absolutely.”

“I don't want to be in a situation where I'm going to say 'I'm not going to vote for you unless you promise me you're going to rule this way,' ” she added. “That's not a good process.”

Progressives aren’t the only ones targeting the two senators, neither of whom have yet met with Kavanaugh.

The National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action announced on Tuesday that it had launched a seven-figure ad campaign urging support for Kavanaugh. In addition to a national TV spot, the group is rolling out regional ads in five states: Alabama, Alaska, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia. Murkowski’s state is the only one on that list that doesn’t have a red-state Democrat up for reelection.

The renewed effort to sway Collins and Murkowski comes as the bulk of the day-to-day media coverage, as well as the rhetorical firefight, has been focused on the weeks-long battle over which documents to request from Kavanaugh’s decades-long paper trail.

Democrats want the National Archives to hand over documents tied to his three years as staff secretary for President George W. Bush, arguing it could help shed light on his thinking on issues such as torture or surveillance.

But the Archives has rebuffed their request for the documents and, because they’re in the minority, Democrats are powerless to force Republicans to request the documents.

Democrats, who argue Republicans are trying to hide something in Kavanaugh’s record, are hoping that public backlash to the GOP tactics will force them to reverse course.

The narrow GOP majority also gives any one Republican senator the leverage to demand more documents before the nomination can move forward.

But, so far, Collins and Murkowski have dismissed the Democrats’ document demands as “excessive,” signaling they won’t help use procedural tactics to force GOP leadership to request more from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House.

Collins told reporters before the Senate left town for its truncated recess that she believed the current GOP documents request is “eminently reasonable.”

Murkowski added that the documents being turned over for Kavanaugh, which senators estimate could top 1 million pages, are “really quite unprecedented.”

“For the request to go so far as to include anything where his name is even mentioned, anything that would have his name as being one that is cc'd or that is passed through, it just seems to me that the request really does border on the excessive,” she said. “It would be one thing if he had no history of any writings but that is not the case.”

—Alexander Bolton contributed.