It’s the top story in the news — the coming vote on confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court — and it’s presenting Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine with possibly the most consequential vote of her career.
Maine Public political reporters Steve Mister and Mal Leary spoke with Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about the vote.
Gratz: How did Collins become one of the three most consequential members of the U.S. Senate?
Leary: The Senate is based on seniority. Collins was first elected in 1996. She is now 13th in seniority among the 100 senators. So almost de facto she becomes a consequential senator. The other factor is that she’s not predictable in terms of supporting the Republican agenda. She supports it most of the time, as her voting record shows. But there have been several times during her career when she has gone the other way and supported, say, a Democratic bipartisan compromise. So she has been building toward this through her entire career, and now, on this Kavanaugh nomination, it’s her, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona that seemed to be the three Republicans that could decide to oppose his nomination. And that of course would kill it.
Has she given any indication of when she may announce her decision?
Mistler: Not really. What we know so far is that there is a procedural vote scheduled for Friday and that at that time we will find out perhaps which way Collins is going to vote on Kavanaugh. We don’t know that for a fact yet, because sometimes Collins has just said, “Listen, this is a procedural vote. I might change my mind between now and the confirmation vote.” She may not have that kind of wiggle room on this particular vote, just because there’s so much pressure and so much scrutiny about how she is going to vote on this nominee. It’s very possible that she will go to the Senate floor, give a speech that explains her decision on Kavanaugh and that may happen today.
Do we know what factors could play into her decision?
Leary: You’ve got to look back over her career. This is not her first Supreme Court nomination, nor her first judicial nomination. She looks at the whole record of the person being nominated, and she looks at a whole bunch of factors: how the American Bar Association ranks that particular nominee, their answers to questions. In this case we’ve got the added level of these charges — that aren’t corroborated but are charges — of what he did or did not do back when he was in high school and college. And I think also playing into her decision making will be his response to questions before the Judiciary Committee. There have been a lot of stories written nationally about how his snapping at members of the Senate and going in essence on attack with them, saying, “Well, did you drink?” is not exactly showing judicial temperament, which I know is one thing that she considers important. She’s also going to be weighing the potential effect this will have on her re-election in 2020.
Mistler: Right now what we’ve seen is a lot of pressure from progressive groups. But there was a poll that was released that was commissioned by NPR and PBS and done by Marist that showed that Republicans are galvanized about Kavanaugh. There was a question that asked people back in July about the importance of these midterm elections. Democrats had a huge edge. The poll that was recently released suggested that Republicans, by virtue of this Kavanaugh nomination, have closed that gap. The question is, is that temporary, is it a sugar high or is it long lasting? In which case that may be a factor for her. If there’s a lot of pressure from Republicans to confirm Kavanaugh that may well play into her decision.
Collins often cites Margaret Chase Smith as one of her heroes. Do you think Smith’s legacy speaks to Collins as she considers this vote?
Leary: Absolutely. It’s one of those many factors that she’s going to be looking at.