Kavanaugh’s fate rests with Sen. Collins

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Congress passes bill to begin scenic byways renaissance MORE (R-Maine), a prominent moderate voice and one of the Senate’s most conscientious members, is poised to make or break Brett Kavanaugh’s chance at becoming a Supreme Court justice.

A big reason for that is several Senate colleagues are waiting to see what Collins will do before announcing their positions.

ADVERTISEMENT

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (N.Y.) has asked centrist members of his caucus to keep their powder dry on Kavanaugh until they know where all Republicans stand.

And GOP senators will need to take a position if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NY Times story sparks new firestorm over Kavanaugh Senator asked FBI to follow up on new information about Kavanaugh last year Congress must reinstate assault weapons ban MORE (R-Ky.) follows through with Monday’s promise to eventually hold an up-or-down vote on the floor.

Over her 22-year Senate career, Collins has built a reputation as a fair-minded, practical swing vote who is willing to stand up to Republican leadership and presidents from her own party.

She voted against former President Clinton’s impeachment in 1999, helped craft a compromise to get past a major partisan impasse over circuit court nominees in 2005, was a key player in sinking a proposal to repeal ObamaCare last year and has consistently criticized President TrumpDonald John TrumpTed Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report US service member killed in Afghanistan Pro-Trump website edited British reality star's picture to show him wearing Trump hat MORE for controversial statements since he took office.

She also voted against Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosTrump awards Medal of Valor, civilian honors to responders in Dayton and El Paso shootings Trump administration fines Michigan State University .5M in Larry Nassar case Government watchdog finds expanded student loan forgiveness program still rejecting most applicants MORE and Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections The Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks MORE, Trump’s controversial picks to head the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, respectively.

One of her first legislative accomplishments in the Senate decades ago was to co-sponsor an amendment with Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenators struggle to get spending bills off ground as shutdown looms Trump defends push to ban flavored e-cigarettes: Let's 'keep young children from Vaping!' Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine MORE (D-Ill.) to repeal a $50 billion tax break for the tobacco industry.

Kavanaugh will have virtually no chance at confirmation if Collins says she believes Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that he sexually assaulted her at a high school party in 1982, according to people on both sides of the partisan Supreme Court fight.

On the flip side, it will be very difficult for Democrats to muster the votes to stop him if Collins rejects Ford’s accusations as insufficiently substantiated and announces support for Kavanaugh.

Senate Republican aides think that Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann Murkowski The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare MORE (R-Alaska) will likely vote the same way as Collins, who thus far has played a more vocal role in the debate over Kavanaugh.

“We’re talking about a jury of one: Susan Collins,” said a senior GOP aide.

“When you look at Murkowski and even Flake, no one lets Collins get to the left of them, so she’s going to be the lodestar here,” the source added, referring Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (Ariz.), who is seen as another GOP swing vote.

The aide gave Collins a “51 percent chance” of voting for Kavanaugh.

Democrats agree that Kavanaugh will be defeated if they can flip Collins, who has voted for many of Trump’s nominees and helped pass his signature $1.5 trillion tax-reform bill last year.

“If Collins were to oppose him then that would be the kiss of death,” said Brian Fallon, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide and executive director of Demand Justice, which has helped lead liberal opposition to Kavanaugh.

Progressives on Monday amped up the pressure on Collins with protests urging her to vote against Kavanaugh. Capitol Police said they arrested 46 people outside Collins’s office and charged them with unlawful demonstrations.

Collins’s allies, however, say it’s unfair to shove all the responsibility for the nominee’s fate on her considering there are 100 members of the Senate and many of them are still publicly undecided as to how they will vote.

“By last count, there are eight members of the United States Senate who have yet to announce a position on Judge Kavanaugh,” said Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins.

Republicans hold a 51-49 majority, meaning Kavanaugh could still be confirmed in a 50-50 tie with Vice President Pence casting the deciding vote. 

“I think Collins will vote with us. Kavanaugh gave her the right answer on Roe v. Wade,” said a Republican senator who requested anonymity to comment on her position.

Collins told Showtime’s “The Circus” in a recent interview that she “doesn’t think Kavanaugh will overturn the landmark abortion rights case.”

Collins said Monday that she believes Senate investigators should reach out to a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, who has accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her at a college party. A Democratic aide cited her statement as evidence that she hasn’t dismissed the second woman’s allegation as other Republicans have. 

Some Senate veterans see Collins as a possible heir to the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Biden's debate performance renews questions of health At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR MORE (R-Ariz.), who was often considered the conscience of the Senate — or at least the Senate GOP conference.

“She has the opportunity to be the conscience on this issue,” said former Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who worked with Collins in 2005 to fashion the so-called Gang of 14 compromise on judges, and also teamed up with her in 2009 to pass a major fiscal stimulus, one of former President Obama’s first legislative accomplishments.

“I always feel empathy with people who are put in that position,” said Nelson, adding that he voted for the 2010 Affordable Care Act because he knew it was the right thing to do even though he knew it would cause a major political backlash.

“I just hope she does what she thinks is right,” he said. “You can’t couch votes on what’s best for you. You have to couch votes on an entirely different standard and that’s where conscience plays a major role. Clearly it did for Sen. McCain.”

Republicans say that McConnell will give Collins wide latitude, but in the end, he is counting on her vote in support of Kavanaugh.

“Susan is a uniquely independent person,” said former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). “She embodies what we call the Northern New England ethic, which is absolute integrity, very serious approach to issues and willingness to march to her own drum and find her own path.”

“On the conscience issue, she’s always sort of seen Margaret Chase Smith as a role model, for lack of a better word,” Gregg added, referring to the former senator from Maine who was one of the first Senate Republicans to publicly challenge Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.), the infamous redbaiter, in her 1950 “Declaration of Conscience” speech.

Collins commemorated Smith in a 2014 floor speech as “a wonderful inspiration to me.”

Gregg said the “effort by the left and the Hollywood crowd to intimidate her is the wrong approach because she doesn’t intimidate.”

Protesters occupied Collins’s Senate office last week as well, and her staff has received vulgar phone calls from people saying they’re opposed to Kavanaugh.

Three advocacy groups — Mainers for Accountable Leadership, the Maine People’s Alliance and Be a Hero — have led a crowdfunding campaign that has raised at least $1.3 million to pressure Collins to oppose Kavanaugh. She blasted the effort as an attempt to “bribe” her.

“Everyone understands that when you come from a constituency like she does, you’re not going to march in lockstep with agenda-driven Republicans from other parts of the country,” said Gregg, the former chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “But she was always there when you needed her, in my opinion. I used to go to her on budget votes, which were tough ones, and she would be there when I needed her.”

If Collins were to vote to confirm Kavanaugh, her reputation as an independent voice would likely suffer a blow as that decision would be met with a barrage of criticism from Democrats and advocates of the “Me Too” movement.

NARAL Pro-Choice America wrote in a recent memo that Collins had an obligation to vote against Kavanaugh because of his uncertain views of abortion rights and the assault allegation leveled against him by Ford.

The group noted that Collins has been willing to go further than many of her colleagues in criticizing Trump’s past behavior and that she championed legislation to decrease instances of sexual assault on college campuses.

Some critics have questioned whether Collins is willing to buck McConnell on such a high-stakes vote.

“The only time that she votes and takes a position opposite to the party is if there’s someone else and there’s safety in numbers,” said Janet Martin, a professor of political science at Bowdoin College, who studies Congress and women in politics.

She argued that the 2017 ObamaCare repeal bill that Collins helped defeat would have passed had McCain not surprised colleagues at the last minute by voting against it.

Martin also noted that Collins held back last week from calling for an FBI investigation to examine Ford’s sexual assault claim.

“Based on what she was saying last week, there was nobody I know in Maine that thought she was going to do anything to stop or delay progress on the confirmation of Kavanaugh,” Martin said. “Not every woman has come out and been in support of the ‘Me Too’ movement or thinks there really is an issue here.”

Clark, Collins’s spokeswoman, rejected the claim that the senator isn’t willing to go against McConnell if she feels the evidence warrants rejecting Kavanaugh.

“It’s absurd to suggest that Sen. Collins hesitates to vote against leadership when the stakes are high,” she said.