Why Murkowski, still opposed, will be marked 'present' on Kavanaugh

The Republican senator from Alaska said she hopes the gesture will remind people of the value of respect amid a bitter fight.
by Phil Helsel and Frank Thorp V /

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More than a 1,000 miles from Washington, wedding bells in Montana on Saturday will cause one Republican senator to change how her vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is tallied.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Friday she ultimately will be marked as "present" rather than a "no" when the Senate is expected to confirm Kavanaugh to the nation's highest court. She will be using the "pair between senators" procedure so that Republican Sen. Steve Daines can walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.

Murkowski said on the Senate floor that she is still a 'no" on Kavanaugh.

"It will not change the outcome of the vote," Murkowski said. "But I do hope that it reminds us that we can take very small, very small steps to be gracious with one another. And maybe those small, gracious steps can lead to more."

Murskowski broke with her own party in voting against cloture Friday morning, which moved the Kavanaugh confirmation process further. She said she would be recorded as "present" after calling for greater respect and civility in a Senate that has been riven by one of the most bitter confirmation battles in modern history.

"While I voted no on cloture today, and I will be a no tomorrow, I will, in the final tally, be asked to be recorded as 'present,'" she said.

The procedure is called a “pair between senators,” according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office. The senator who is on Capitol Hill would announce how the absent senator would have voted, and the present senator would announce they voted in the opposite way, but that vote is withdrawn and they are recorded as present, according to McConnell’s office.

Daines, a firm "yes" vote, was ready to travel back to Washington after the wedding if his vote was needed, the lawmaker's office said. U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Montana, had offered Daines his private jet for the trip.

Kavanaugh has been accused of sexually assaulting Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the early 1980s when they both were in high school. Kavanaugh has strenuously denied the allegations.

Others have questioned whether Kavanaugh's fiery and what some called partisan testimony last week, in which he blamed opposition from "the left" fueled by anger over the 2016 election of President Donald Trump and "revenge on behalf of the Clintons" for smearing his character, disqualifies him from sitting on the Supreme Court.

Republicans appear to narrowly have enough votes to confirm Kavanaugh, with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia saying that they would vote "yes."

Murkowski in Friday's remarks on the Senate floor said that she believes Kavanaugh is “a good man” and she said “he’s clearly a learned judge.”

"But in my conscience — because that’s how I have to vote; at the end of the day is with my conscience — I could not conclude that he is the right person for the court at this time," Murkowski said.

She said the decision was agonizing.

"If there has been a silver lining in these bitter, bitter weeks — which, quite honestly remains to be seen — I do think what we have seen is ... a recognition by both sides that we must do more to protect and prevent sexual assault and to help the victims of these assaults,” Murkowski said.

When the motion for cloture passed Friday morning, it set off up to 30 hours of debate in the Senate, which continued into Friday night.

A full Senate vote on the nomination is expected Saturday.

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