Susan Collins’ Meaningless ‘No’ on Barrett

A desperate re-election gambit that has no impact on the outcome.

The embattled Republican Senator from Democratic Maine is making one last-ditch stand to save her job on the eve of the election. It’s unlikely to work and, frankly, shouldn’t.

Fox News (“Susan Collins says she is voting against Coney Barrett confirmation to be ‘fair and consistent’“):

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, took a veiled shot at her party’s leadership in the Senate on Sunday when she announced that she would be voting against the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

“Prior to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, I stated that, should a vacancy on the Supreme Court arise, the Senate should follow the precedent set four years ago and not vote on a nominee prior to the presidential election.,” Collins said in a statement.

She added: “Because this vote is occurring prior to the election, I will vote against the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.”

Collins noted in her statement that her vote against confirming Coney Barrett to the nation’s highest court is not meant as a slight against the jurist but instead is a matter of “being fair and consistent.”

The Maine Republican’s statement appears to directly hit at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s stance to move forward with confirming Coney Barrett with just over a week to go before the presidential election. McConnell has drawn widespread criticism from Democrats and been labelled a hypocrite based on the treatment of former President Barack Obamas Supreme Court nominee and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals chief Judge Merrick Garland.

Obama nominated Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away in February 2016, but McConnell and Senate Republicans refused to hold a hearing or vote on his nomination, citing the imminent 2016 presidential election.

McConnell has said his stance was not hypocritical — because in 2020, Republicans would control both the White House and the Senate, unlike Democrats in 2016, who controlled only the White House.

“You have to go back to 1880s to find the last time a Senate controlled by a party different from the president filled a vacancy on the Supreme Court that was created in the middle of a presidential election year,” McConnell previously told Fox News.

Collins in her statement, however, appears to be agreeing with McConnell’s detractors.

“When the Senate considers nominees to the United States Supreme Court, it is particularly important that we act fairly and consistently, using the same set of rules, no matter which political party is in power,” she said. “What I have concentrated on is being fair and consistent, and I do not think it is fair nor consistent to have a Senate confirmation vote prior to the election.”

Despite Collins statement, Republicans will have enough votes to confirm Coney Barrett to the bench when they meet Monday evening to decide.

Another Republican who was one the fence, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced her support for Coney Barrett Saturday during a floor speech in the Senate.

Murkowski said she’s still opposed to the Senate taking up a Supreme Court nominee so close to Nov. 3 election, but the senator said she already lost that procedural fight and she must evaluate Barrett’s qualifications to the bench.

Given that McConnell has made no bones about the distinction between 2016 and 2020 going back to the Garland fight, I can preach the “hypocrisy” argument either way. But, certainly, it was a shameless, partisan power grab that threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

Still, I can’t give Collins any credit for her sense of “fairness” here. Not only did she vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the very same court despite credible sexual assault charges and a meltdown during the confirmation hearings that destroyed any pretense of judicial temperament but this vote seems desperate and craven.

There are 53 Republican Senators at the moment. As many as three of them could abstain or vote against Barrett and she would still be confirmed, given that Vice President Mike Pence could break the tie. So, Collins’ gesture is completely meaningless, coming at no cost to her while allowing her to signal to her constituency that she’s on their side. (And, frankly, I think she would vote to confirm during the lame-duck session even if she lost re-election and the Democrats were set to take back the White House and the Senate.)

Indeed, I have more respect for Murkowski’s position here. She’s in a heavily Republican state and won her first “re-” election as an independent after losing the party primary. Yet, she took some political risk by publicly disagreeing with GOP leadership for no obvious gain. But, having inevitably lost that fight, she’s now carrying out the wishes of those she represents.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Law and the Courts, Supreme Court, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Barry says:

    James: “Given that McConnell has made no bones about the distinction between 2016 and 2020 going back to the Garland fight, I can preach the “hypocrisy” argument either way. ”

    McConnell’s position back then was allegedly based on an upcoming election; his position now is ‘f*ck what I said then’.

    Both for that behavior, and for every thing he has done in office, he has no defense.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Barry: As I’ve documented previously, McConnell and key Senate Republicans were initially clear that the ‘Biden rule’ only applies with cross-party control, as it signaled that an election was necessary to break the ‘tie.’ But McConnell and others didn’t stay on message, making it seem that the ‘principle’ was an upcoming election, period.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Barry: Regardless, we agree on the larger point that McConnell has the Senate to the breaking point with his reckless escalation. We’ve legitimately had a ‘both sides’ tit for tat over the last three decades or so but McConnell went nuclear.

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  4. de stijl says:

    Collins is desperately trying to save her seat. By any means possible.

    Joyner’s comparison to Murkowski’s behavior was really interesting.

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  5. mattbernius says:

    Indeed, I have more respect for Murkowski’s position here. She’s in a heavily Republican state and won her first “re-” election as an independent after losing the party primary. Yet, she took some political risk by publicly disagreeing with GOP leadership for no obvious gain. But, having inevitably lost that fight, she’s now carrying out the wishes of those she represents.

    Really? I find Murkowski’s behavior especially calculating. She gets to demonstrate that she still has some independence (which again is a value in a lot of Alsaka–remember that Palin won as an outsider) and still, at the end of the day, is true to the party.

    And in both cases, if the Republicans didn’t have the majority, both Senators would most likely be in lockstep. Both of these are great examples of performative politics (the fact Gardner didn’t bother to join them is a reminder that he knows he’s toast and trying to even perform independence isn’t worth it anymore).

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  6. charon says:

    Indeed, I have more respect for Murkowski’s position here. She’s in a heavily Republican state and won her first “re-” election as an independent after losing the party primary. Yet, she took some political risk by publicly disagreeing with GOP leadership for no obvious gain. But, having inevitably lost that fight, she’s now carrying out the wishes of those she represents.

    Murkowski’s vote is also meaningless, McConnell does not need her vote.

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  7. charon says:

    @mattbernius:

    I find Murkowski’s behavior especially calculating.

    So? Is there something wrong with being a smart politician, if one is a politician?

  8. Scott F. says:

    Still, I can’t give Collins any credit for her sense of “fairness” here. Not only did she vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the very same court despite credible sexual assault charges and a meltdown during the confirmation hearings that destroyed any pretense of judicial temperament but this vote seems desperate and craven.

    The only reason we are even talking about Collins instead of the other 52 Republican Senators is because she’s made a shtick out of being some kind of independent voice, but she’s as dialed in as the rest of the sycophants when it gets to the vote. This vote is no more desperate and craven then her typical votes, except this time she’s following through on her words.

    There’s a reason she’s a punchline on SNL and Lisa Murkowski is not.

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  9. mattbernius says:

    @charon:

    So? Is there something wrong with being a smart politician, if one is a politician?

    To be clear, absolutely nothing. I just was having an issue with being calculating being mixed into being principled.

  10. KM says:

    @Scott F:
    Indeed. Collins’ whole brand is being a “reasonable” and “independent” thinker who then promptly turned into a GOP Suckup with a minor in Concern Trolling. That’s a role you can only fake for so long because even the dumbest voter can notice that you picking sides. She wants to be seen as Switzerland while running the Empire in plain site. Now that she’s pissed off enough of her constituents and her chosen side’s gonna cost her power, she’s desperately trying to pretend it’s pre-Obama days and she’s merely an impartial observer. Guess what Susan, it’s gonna work for you like Trump’s rehashing of his 2016 campaign. You can’t pitch yourself as a fence sitter in this kind of political environment – if you ain’t got new material, you’re out on your ass.

    Bye bye Collins – we’ll all furrow our brows for you when you leave and express concern about your future prospects in solidarity. Wingnut welfare circuit’s about to get a flood of unemployed idiots…

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  11. de stijl says:

    @KM:

    Hopefully, Joni Ernst will join the ranks of the wingnut welfare train. Good riddance.

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  12. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius: @charon: To be clear, I’m not a Murkowski fan. But her flip-flop here just strikes me as more “principled” than Collins’ grandstanding.

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  13. SteveCanyon says:

    @James Joyner: I think the only “principle” driving their votes here is that Collins is up for re-election this year and Murkowski is not.

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  14. gVOR08 says:

    Why are we talking about Collins and Murkowski? It was almost certainly McConnell who looked at the polls and decided how Collins would vote.

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  15. gVOR08 says:

    I’m having difficulty discerning the distinctions between the lying and hypocrisy that lie within establishment norms and the lying and hypocrisy that don’t. Which maybe gives me a segue to a broader point.

    Dr. Taylor teaches how our institutional structures lead to our current situation. A story that makes perfect sense to me, although I think to explain the shifts that started in the 70s requires more emphasis on wealth inequality and the role of money. Where I depart is that while our structures opened the path to the current Republican Party, they weren’t forced to take that path. There are villains in the story. They should be part of the story.

    Perhaps if we weren’t so accepting of a level of lying and hypocrisy we’d have less lying and hypocrisy.

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  16. Kathy says:

    If I recall correctly, Collins voted against repealing the ACA, along with McCain and Murkowski, way back in 2017. That would be the most consequential vote she could point to in her reelection campaign, though it might damage her with the Republicans in the state.

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