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Lisa Murkowski becomes 2nd GOP senator to oppose pre-election Supreme Court vote

Murkowski and Susan Collins of Maine have said they would not vote for a Supreme Court nominee ahead of the election.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, during a Senate hearing Sept. 9.Greg Nash / Pool via AFP - Getty Images

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Sunday became the second GOP senator to publicly oppose voting on a Supreme Court nominee before the November election.

"For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election," Murkowski said in a statement. "Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed."

Murkowski joins Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is in a tough re-election battle, in opposing taking up President Donald Trump's coming nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday at 87 from complications of pancreatic cancer.

"I did not support taking up a nomination eight months before the 2016 election to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Justice [Antonin] Scalia," she continued. "We are now even closer to the 2020 election — less than two months out — and I believe the same standard must apply."

A third closely watched GOP senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, said Sunday that Republicans were pursuing exactly what Democrats would do if they were in power.

"No one should be surprised that a Republican Senate majority would vote on a Republican president's Supreme Court nomination, even during a presidential election year," said Alexander, who is not running for re-election. "The Constitution gives senators the power to do it. The voters who elected them expect it."

Trump pledged Saturday to quickly fill the seat and to nominate a woman. Amy Coney Barrett, 48, a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who was also on Trump's list to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018, has emerged as a front-runner.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has promised a swift confirmation process despite criticism from Democrats over his refusal in 2016 to confirm Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's Supreme Court pick.

"Today it seems that Senator McConnell has lost his faith in the judgment of the American people and wants to hurry up and put somebody on the court," former President Bill Clinton said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week." "And the president does, too. So they — their position is 'do whatever maximizes your power.'"

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McConnell defended the move, saying Republicans control both the White House and the Senate, while there was a power split in 2016.

"In the last midterm election before Justice Scalia's death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president's second term," he said in a statement. "We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president's Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year."

Republicans on Sunday defended the discrepancy between their 2016 and 2020 stances in comments similar to McConnell's.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on "This Week" that Republicans' 2020 position "actually" isn't a contradiction from 2016.

"Twenty-nine times there has been a vacancy in a presidential election year," Cruz said. "Now, presidents have made nominations all 29 times. That's what presidents do ... and there's a big difference in the Senate with whether the Senate is of the same party of the president or a different party of the president.

"If the parties are the same, the Senate confirms the nominee," he added.

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Republicans are "performing our constitutional duty and fulfilling the mandate that the voters gave us in 2016 and especially in 2018."

Cotton said it was too soon to say whether a vote would take place before the election or whether it would be held it in the immediate aftermath.

"We're not going to rush. We're not going to cut corners or skip steps," Cotton said. "We're going to move forward without delay."

Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh also echoed McConnell in a statement Sunday.

"Voters elected Donald J. Trump president in 2016 and gave Republicans an expanded majority in 2018, so the people already have spoken," he said. "The president has placed two well-qualified justices on the court so far and he is about to select a third."

With Republicans holding a 53-47 advantage in the Senate, two more Republicans would need to come out against voting in favor of a nominee ahead of the election to ensure no confirmation before it, assuming no Democrats were to break ranks.

Murkowski, a moderate Republican, has come under repeated criticism from the president, who vowed in June to campaign for anyone with "a pulse" who runs against her in 2022.

"Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don't care, I'm endorsing," he said. "If you have a pulse, I'm with you!"

Sunday morning, Trump tweeted his thoughts about an Alaska Chamber of Commerce event Murkowski was taking part in Tuesday.

"No thanks!" he wrote.