Senator Lisa Murkowski on Sunday said she opposes voting on Donald Trump’s pick to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, becoming the second Republican senator to do so – meaning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s margin for error is shrinking.
The Alaska Republican has long said she would prefer waiting until after the 3 November election to decide how to fill any Supreme Court vacancy, and on Sunday she announced just that, saying she wants to let voters have a say about who will be president come January and which party will control the in-play Senate.
“For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election. Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed," Ms Murkowski said.
“I did not support taking up a nomination eight months before the 2016 election to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Justice Scalia,” she said in a statement, "We are now even closer to the 2020 election – less than two months out – and I believe the same standard must apply."
She joins Maine Republican Susan Collins in announcing they prefer having the election then a confirmation fight.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has 53 votes, and needs a simple majority to confirm Mr Trump’s pick, which he said will be a woman and should be announced this week. Democrats have 47 votes. If one more Senate Republican breaks ranks, the issue would be split 50-50, meaning Vice President Mike Pence could vote to break the tie and confirm a ninth Supreme Court Justice.
But a potential fourth defection would be enough to block the nomination and kick the matter until after Election Day.
Mr McConnell is being criticized by Democrats for planning a vote on the nomination this year because he blocked former President Barack Obama’s final high court pick, Merrick Garland, for nearly a year. At the time, he said voters should first select a president and decide which party would hold more power in the upper chamber.
Now Mr McConnell intends to move Mr Trump’s nomination, with his surrogates arguing on Sunday morning that whenever in US history a White House and Senate of the same party faced an election-year Supreme Court vacancy, they filled that vacancy.
Senate GOP Conference Chairman John Barrasso appeared on “Meet the Press” to contend former Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden, now Democrats’ presidential nominee, told then-President George HW Bush in the 1990s he would not consider any high court pick in the 41st president’s final year. He dubbed it the “Biden rule.”
That led an incredulous NBC host Chuck Todd to shout: “There is no ‘Joe Biden rule’!”