Collins and Murkowski face recess pressure cooker on Supreme Court

Collins and Murkowski face recess pressure cooker on Supreme Court
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GOP Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP senator: 'Outrageous' to say Trump's tweets about Democratic congresswomen are racist Fox personalities blast Trump's remarks Schumer blisters Republicans over response to Trump tweets: 'Where are you?' MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm GOP senator: 'Outrageous' to say Trump's tweets about Democratic congresswomen are racist Fox personalities blast Trump's remarks MORE (Maine), seen as potential swing votes on President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA 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 PompeoAs tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Trump's Huawei concession is 'the rope that could hang America' MORE to be secretary of State and Gina Haspel to lead the CIA.

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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 announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake urges Republicans to condemn 'vile and offensive' Trump tweets Flake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers MORE, both vocal Trump critics — as well as Nevada, where Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE is the only Republican senator running for reelection in a state won by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhy Trump's bigoted tropes won't work in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm 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 DeVosHillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats 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.