Getting to 50 — a note on Sen. Murkowski

In discussing the prospect of getting to 50 to confirm a successor to Justice Kennedy, if he resigns, I discussed Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Some have worried that she, along with Sen. Susan Collins, would reject a strong conservative nominee, especially if the nominee seems openly to be pro-life.

I expressed some skepticism that Murkowski would pose a problem. I noted that she has often argued that the president should enjoy considerable deference when it comes to judicial nominees.

An Alaskan reader agrees with me. He notes that Murkowski is “an institutionalist” and as such generally believes that presidents should be able to have their nominees confirmed, both for courts and for the Cabinet.

It’s true that Murkowski voted against Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. But that was only after DeVos kept offering “school choice” as the solution to problems with small Alaska schools that might not have a another village within 50 to 100 miles.

On judges, Murkowski has always, to my knowledge and the knowledge of my Alaska reader, voted to confirm, whether the nominating president was Republican or Democrat. She voted to confirm all Supreme Court nominees during her tenure — something not many Senators who were around for all of these votes can say, given the wide ideological disparity between, say, Justice Alito and Justice Sotomayor.

To my disappointment, Murkowski voted to end the filibuster of Goodwin Liu’s nomination. Liu is a hard leftist and the cloture vote failed.

I’m not saying that Murkowski would rubber stamp any nominee President Trump made (or that she should). However, the administration ought to be able to nominate a solid conservative whom Murkowski will support.

It’s not clear that the same can be said of Susan Collins. For one thing, Collins is to the left of Murkowski. For another, she doesn’t appear to be as strong an “institutionalist.”

Finally, there are reports that Collins is considering a run for governor of Maine next year. If so, that ambition might increase her reluctance to vote to confirm a strong conservative.

If Murkowski and Collins were to balk at a Trump nominee, the margin for error disappear. If just one other Republican broke ranks, the nomination would be defeated.

If Murkowski stays true to her “institutionalism,” the margin for error will be at least one vote. Given the idiosyncratic nature of certain Republican Senators, Trump may need that margin.

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