U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski announced Saturday that she would vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett, giving crucial support to President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the conservative judge faces a final vote expected Monday.
The Alaska Republican had been a rare holdout on Barrett, expressing concern that the nomination had proceeded so close to a presidential election. Even though Barrett already appeared to have sufficient support for confirmation from Senate Republicans who hold the majority in the chamber, Murkowski's vote now gives Trump's nominee additional backing.
Murkowski announced her support for Barrett in a speech during Saturday's session. "While I oppose the process that has led us to this point, I do not hold it against her," she said.
The Senate opened a rare weekend session Saturday as Republicans raced to put Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court and seal a conservative majority before Election Day despite Democratic efforts to stall the confirmation.
No chance for Democrats
Democrats are poised to mount more time-consuming procedural hurdles, but the party has no realistic chance of stopping Barrett's advance in the Republican-controlled chamber. Barrett, a federal appeals court judge, is expected to be confirmed Monday and quickly join the court.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, noted the political rancor, but defended his handling of the process.
"Our recent debates have been heated, but curiously talk of Judge Barrett's actual credentials or qualifications are hardly featured," McConnell said. He called her one of the most "impressive" nominees for public office "in a generation."
The fast-track confirmation process is like none other in U.S. history so close to a presidential election. Democrats call it a "sham" and say the winner of the November 3 presidential election should name the nominee to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York warned Republicans the only way to remove the "stain" of their action would be to "withdraw the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett until after the election."
With the nation experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases, Democrats were expected to force a series of votes throughout Saturday on coronavirus relief legislation, including the House-passed Heroes Act that would pump money into schools, hospitals and jobless benefits and provide other aid.
Majority Republicans were expected to turn aside the measures and keep Barrett's confirmation on track, which would lock a 6-3 conservative majority on the court for the near future. Senators planned to stay in session Saturday and Sunday.
Barrett, 48, presented herself in public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a neutral arbiter of cases on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and presidential power - issues soon confronting the court. At one point she suggested, "It's not the law of Amy."
But Barrett's past writings against abortion and a ruling on the Obama-era health care law show a deeply conservative thinker.
Trump said this week he was hopeful the Supreme Court would undo the health law when the justices take up a challenge November 10, the week after the election.
At the start of Trump's presidency, McConnell engineered a Senate rules change to allow confirmation by a majority of the 100 senators, rather than the 60-vote threshold traditionally needed to advance high court nominees over objections. The GOP holds a 53-47 majority in the chamber.
Collins to vote 'no'
Most Republicans are supporting Barrett's confirmation. In the wake of Murkowski's announcement on Saturday, only Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine has said she won't vote for a nominee so close to the presidential election.
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee powered Barrett's nomination forward Thursday despite a boycott of the vote by Democrats.
Senator Lindsey Graham, the committee chairman, acknowledged the partisan nature of the proceedings, but said he could not live with himself if the Senate failed to confirm someone he said was such an exceptional nominee. The South Carolina Republican called Barrett a "role model" for conservative women and for people of strongly held religious beliefs.
Democrats decried the "sham" process and said Barrett would undo much of what was accomplished by liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
By pushing for Barrett's ascension so close to the November 3 election, Trump and his Republican allies are counting on a campaign boost, in much the way they believe McConnell's refusal to allow the Senate to consider President Barack Obama's nominee in February 2016 created excitement for Trump among conservatives and evangelical Christians eager for the Republican president to make that nomination after Justice Antonin Scalia's death.
Graham, for example, with his high-profile role leading the hearings, has been raking in about $1 million a day this month for his reelection campaign. That rate outpaces Graham's third-quarter total of $28 million, which his campaign said represented the largest amount ever raised by any Republican Senate candidate in a single quarter, in any state.
Barrett was a professor at Notre Dame Law School when she was tapped by Trump in 2017 for an appeals court opening. Two Democrats joined at that time to confirm her, but none is expected to vote for her in the days ahead.
During the three days of testimony, and subsequent filings to the Senate committee, Barrett declined to answer basic questions for senators, such as whether the president can change the date of federal elections, which is set in law. Instead, she pledged to take the cases as they come.