Breaking Down Mitch McConnell's Majority -- Where Will His 50 Votes Come From?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

 

There are 53 GOP Senators.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will need 50 votes to confirm a new Supreme Court Justice, with Vice President Mike Pence standing by to break any tie.

One GOP Senator, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska has already signaled today that she will not vote to confirm any new Supreme Court Justice until after Inauguration Day in January.  That means Cocaine Mitch can only endure two more defections and still be able to confirm a new Supreme Court Justice.

In my view, the following Senators are solid votes to confirm pretty much any nominee sent to the Senate by Pres. Trump in the next 45 days: John Barasso, Marsha Blackburn, Roy Blunt, John Boozman, Mike Braun, Shelly Capito, Bill Cassidy, John Coryn, Ton Cotton, Kevin Cramer, Make Crapo, Ted Cruz, Steven Daines, Mike Enzi, Deb Fischer, Lindsay Graham, Chuck Grassley, Josh Hawley, John Hoeven, Cindy Hyde-Smith, James Inhofe, Ron Johnson, John Kennedy, James Lankford, Mike Lee, Kelly Loeffler, Mitch McConnell,  Jerry Moran, Rand Paul, David Perdue, Rob Portman, James Risch, Pat Roberts, Mike Rounds, Marco Rubio, Ben Sasse, Rick Scott, Tim Scott, Richard Shelby, Dan Sullivan, John Thune, Thom Tillis, Patrick Toomey and Roger Wicker.

The one wild-card in this group is Thom Tillis.  He’s in a tight race for re-election, and voting to confirm a nominee would likely energize Democrat voters for his opponent.  But not voting to confirm would not likely help him with GOP voters. North Carolina is an odd state at the Senate level, having elected an equal number of Democrat and GOP Senators over the past 50 years.  Ultimately, I think Tillis does what he needs to do to keep his base energized, and votes to confirm.

That is 45 that I think McConnell starts with, and he needs five votes from the following seven senators: Joni Ernst, Martha McSally, Mitt Romney, Richard Burr, Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, and Cory Gardner.

Ernst and McSally

Both are running in November, and both are in tight races.  A vote for a new nominee risks substantially energizing the Democrat opposition in their states and driving turnout to a degree that could cost them their seats.  But I see both of them as “team players” who would prioritize the SCOTUS seat over their own reelection, and both would likely have a realistic expectation that if they were to lose their reelection bids while Trump wins a second term, there would be high profile positions for them in the second Trump Administration.

Richard Burr and Lamar Alexander

Both retiring and both are “NeverTrumpers” for the most part.  But I suspect both would look at the opportunity for Trump to fill another SCOTUS seat rather than Biden as being consistent with the political views they brought with them to Washington.  It would be idiocy to deny Trump that opportunity simply out of personal dislike, and possibly hand the seat to a 45-year-old “next RBG”.  Their vote would be a capper to their own careers in the Senate, not an endorsement of Pres. Trump.

Mitt Romney

I suspect Romney will come to the same conclusion — he’d rather a Trump nominee fill the seat than risk it falling into the hands of Biden or whoever is in the WH if Trump loses.  In fact, that’s probably Romney’s dream outcome — that Trump get the nominee confirmed, and that the confirmation energizes the Democrats into beating Trump.

Collins and Gardner

Both are in fights to win reelection, and both are in purple states trending blue.  Gardner has a history of bipartisanship, although he has tried to move his views in a more conservative direction since arriving in the Senate.  But Gardner is in his first term, has not always been on the same page as Pres. Trump, and cannot have the same level of confidence that if he lost his reelection big there might be something waiting for him in the Administration.  So I think Gardner is a very strong possibility to vote for his own electoral interests in November, and announce that he won’t vote to confirm a nominee until after Inauguration Day.

Collins is pretty much in the same situation.  She has always enjoyed strong support in Maine, but she is facing a stronger challenger this year than she ever has before.  Maine is a purple state at least — if not blue already.  Her moderate views and long tenure have carried her in the past.  But she is already under assault from the left for having voted in favor of Brett Kavanaugh and against impeachment.  A third such vote on the eve of the election could end up being decisive and cost her the seat.

She is not a cultural conservative.  I’m sure she’s not enthusiastic about confirming a nominee that might cement some victories for that constituency.  So her ultimate vote might come down to the identity of the nominee as much as anything.

At 67, I don’t think she’s ready to be “done” with Washington.  If she thinks her vote would cost her the seat, I think she would vote against confirmation.

But, that very fact might just put votes “For” confirmation in Cocaine Mitch’s column from Romney, Burr, Alexander, Ernst, and McSally.  If all five voted to confirm, that would give Mitch the 50 he needs, and allow Collins to vote “no” to help herself.  Everybody in the GOP caucus likes Susan Collins. McConnell knows how to play that tune.  And that might just be the song that gets him the 50 votes he needs.

And then there is Joe Manchin.