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The 7 Senators to Watch on Brett Kavanaugh’s Confirmation

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Senate Republicans have a very narrow margin for error on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The GOP caucus has just 51 members, but it’s unclear if Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is being treated for brain cancer, will be able to return to the chamber to vote. A 50-50 tie vote would be broken with a vote from Vice President Mike Pence.

Since Republicans changed Senate rules in 2017, the vote on Kavanaugh will require only a simple majority instead of the old 60-vote standard. But that still means the vote will come down to a handful of moderate Republicans and red-state Democrats.

The White House invited several of the key senators to the unveiling Monday evening, but all declined, and so far none have made any statements in opposition or support of Kavanaugh. (Several other Republicans and Democrats have come out along party lines already.)

Here’s a look at the key votes.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine

Collins is one of two Republicans senators who are supportive of abortion rights and she has said she will consider it in her vote. She recently told CNN that she “would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade,” the landmark 1973 decision affirming them, because it is a settled precedent. Maine residents are among the most supportive of abortion rights in the U.S. — a 2014 poll found that two-thirds think it should be legal in most or all cases. But supporters of abortion rights note that her wording leaves Kavanaugh a lot of wiggle room. In a statement on Monday, she cited Kavanaugh’s “impressive credentials and extensive experience” and said she will conduct a “careful, thorough vetting” of his record. She voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch last year.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska

Murkowski is the other Republican senator who is supportive of abortion rights. She has said she will consider whether a nominee would overturn Roe v. Wade, but that it alone would not be a litmus test. “My standards for Supreme Court nominees are extremely high. It is my longstanding practice to carefully scrutinize the qualifications of judicial nominees and to cast an independent vote when judicial nominations come before the Senate,” she said when Kennedy retired. After Kavanaugh’s nomination, she said she looked forward to “sitting down for a personal meeting,” reviewing his decisions and hearing his responses to questions. She voted to confirm Gorsuch.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky

Paul’s libertarian streak leads him to break with Republican orthodoxy on some issues, and he’s not yet said he will back Kavanaugh. In a tweet Monday, Paul said that he is keeping an “open mind” and looks forward to upcoming Senate hearings, reviewing his record and meeting personally with Kavanaugh. He was one of a group of conservatives who signed a statement urging Trump to pick Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. But Paul has a history of threatening to break with the GOP caucus before backing down, and it’s unlikely that he’ll turn out to be the deciding vote against Kavanaugh. He voted to confirm Gorsuch.

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana

Donnelly is one of a handful of red-state Democrats up for re-election this year who are probably not happy to be dealing with this Supreme Court nomination. Already facing a tough campaign, Donnelly, who opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother, now risks alienating his Democratic base by supporting Kavanaugh or handing his Republican opponent, Mike Braun, another argument against him. Braun has said he expects Donnelly to vote for Kavanaugh but argued he shouldn’t get any credit for it. “Hoosiers won’t be fooled by Senator Donnelly’s election year pandering,” he said in a statement. Donnelly has said he will “carefully review and consider the record and qualifications” of Kavanaugh. He voted to confirm Gorsuch.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia

Manchin is also facing a tough re-election fight in a red state. He also opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother. He has chosen to make his argument on the nomination based on Kavanaugh’s views on the Affordable Care Act, arguing that an upcoming case on the legality of the law could be pivotal. “The Supreme Court will ultimately decide if nearly 800,000 West Virginians with pre-existing conditions will lose their healthcare,” he said. “This decision will directly impact almost 40 percent of my state, so I’m very interested in his position on protecting West Virginians with pre-existing conditions.” He voted to confirm Gorsuch.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota

Heitkamp is running in a tough fight for re-election in one of the most closely watched races this fall, with one election-watcher saying she is possibly “the most vulnerable incumbent in the country.” Before the nomination, she called for someone who would be “pragmatic, fair, compassionate, committed to justice, and above politics,” and she has since said that she will “thoroughly review and vet” Kavanaugh’s record. Heitkamp has called for reproductive decisions to be made by women and their doctors, but opposes public funding of abortion. She voted to confirm Gorsuch.

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama

Jones is another red-state Democrat who will face pressure, but he is not up for election this year. He has said that he will do a “thorough vetting of Judge Kavanaugh’s body of work” before making a decision and said that he is open to voting either way. “I don’t think my role is to rubber stamp for the President, but it’s also not an automatic knee-jerk no, either,” he told CNN before Kavanaugh was announced. He will be up for re-election in 2020, which means he will not face the same immediate pressure as the other red-state Democrats on this list but does have to worry about being on the same ballot as Trump, who will surely make a “no” vote an issue. He did not belong to the Senate when Gorsuch was confirmed.





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