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Democrats want Collins and Murkowski to oppose Brett Kavanaugh. That’s looking unlikely.

The moderate Republicans sound skeptical of Democrats’ efforts to sink Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), left, and Susan Collins (R-ME). The two are considered pivotal votes in the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation process.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) may hold the hopes of liberals across the country in the palm of her hand, but she doesn’t exactly sound impressed by Senate Democrats’ early positioning on President Donald Trump’s newly announced Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh.

“I’ve noticed that they seem to have switched from a focus on Roe to health care, in an attempt, I assume, to unify their caucus,” Collins said, adding, “The health care issues are very important to me.”

Republican moderates Collins and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the two pro-abortion rights women who voted against the Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare, are the only hope of tanking Kavanaugh’s nomination. Republicans need 50 votes to get Trump’s nominee confirmed, so if either Collins or Murkowski vote no, they theoretically have the ability to threaten Kavanaugh’s nomination as long as all Senate Democrats also oppose him.

But on Tuesday, the two gave no indication they plan to do so.

“I believe that the judge has impressive credentials,” Collins told a crowd of reporters. “He clearly has extensive experience, having spent more than a decade as a judge on the DC Circuit.”

Murkowski flat-out said she believes Kavanaugh is a better choice than some of the other names on Trump’s shortlist — which had heavy input from the right-wing Federalist Society, and therefore was dominated by a number of conservative judges.

“Let’s put it this way: There were some who have been on the list that I would have had a very, very difficult time supporting, just based on what was already publicly known about them,” Murkowski said, according to Politico’s Burgess Everett and Heather Caygle. “We’re not dealing with that.”

Even though the pick of Kavanaugh may have mollified Murkowski’s concerns, she told reporters she has a lot of work to do before she makes a final decision. Kavanaugh has been on the bench on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals for over a decade, and also is known for his work in the George W. Bush administration and helping co-write the Starr Report, the investigative account into Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.

“There’s a lot to look at with Judge Kavanaugh,” she said. “I’m going to be able to give you more of a reaction after I’ve had an opportunity for more thorough review.”

Collins was not as ready to make comparisons, but told reporters she believes Kavanaugh is a qualified candidate for the job.

“When you look at the credentials that Judge Kavanaugh brings to the job, it will be very difficult for anyone to argue that he’s not qualified for the job. He is clearly qualified for the job.” Collins said. “But there are other issues involving judicial temperament and his political — or rather, his judicial philosophy — that also will play into my decision.”

Kavanaugh has in fact been criticized by some conservative Republicans who fear he could turn out to be a more moderate justice in the model of retired Justice David Souter or Chief Justice John Roberts, who cast votes to uphold the Affordable Care Act and legalize gay marriage. Collins noted this conservative criticism, adding that health care issues are extremely important to her as she starts deliberating.

“The [judge] has already rendered a decision on the Affordable Care Act that frankly was criticized by conservatives as not going far enough,” she said.

Murkowski has said she is most concerned about abortion rights and gun ownership rights, while Collins put the focus on health care — while also getting in a jab at Senate Democrats, many of whom plan to oppose Kavanaugh based on concerns that he might be a vote to weaken the Affordable Care Act if he gets on the bench.

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