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Swing Senators in Kavanaugh vote (last update: Fri. 20181005)

September 27, 2018

Below I tried to look at the bios of the “swing” votes in the Senate on Kavanaugh, to see if I could figure out how it will go. Interesting little microcosm of how Senate politics works. Updating as the situation goes on. 

I should say I am completely opposed to Kavanaugh regardless of the accusations, but given he can easily be replaced by another Federalist, the fight over his nomination is symbolic (and a powerful rallying cry to get women out to vote) rather an actual opportunity to influence the Supreme Court.

According to this article [FiveThirtyEight] , 7 senators will decide Kavanaugh’s fate. A total of three are needed to push the nomination through in spite of the raging controversy. Below are my impressions of the 7:

  • Susan Collins (R-ME)  — “Moderate” Republican who has openly expressed reservations about Kavanaugh in light of the accusations. She is up for re-election in 2020, and doesn’t have much of a shot (the other seat in Maine is looking to go Democrat in a blowout), so electoral impact is probably not a factor for her. I strongly expect her to vote against. Result: supports.
  • Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) — No opinion, but as a woman in the Senate she’s no doubt taken her share of s**t from men in power. Alalska’s senate electoral history is actually kindof interesting, with strong third party candidates, Murkowski winning on a write-in line as the incumbent in 2010 (link). I somewhat expect her to vote against. Result: opposes.
  • Bob Corker (R-TN) — A devoted conservative coming from a pro-business, anti-union ideological direction. He has nevertheless bucked his party in the past in order to extract concessions for himself or his state. Although his seat is up for re-election in a close race, he is retiring so faces no consequences. I expect he would vote in favor, but may hold up the process for further favors for himself or his sponsors. Result: supports.
  • Jeff Flake (R-AZ) — another devoted conservative. I don’t think the fact that he’s a vocal Republican Trump critic is relevant to this. Although his seat is up for re-election and the Republicans look like they’re losing it, he himself is retiring. I expect he would indulge in some grandstanding but eventually vote in favor. Result: He expressed reservations, then support, then requested 1 week delay for FBI investigation, but then voted in support at the committee level, then made ambiguously worded daily statements expressing vague inclinations both ways. In the end, supports.
  • Joe Donnelly (D-IN) — The #2 “DINO” in the Senate, he is ideologically mixed and often votes with Republicans. He is in the middle of a close re-election campaign in a conservative state. I don’t think his state would lose him net votes if he voted for, but he may feel safer politically avoiding a vote altogether. My opinion: toss-up. Result:  opposes
  • Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) — “moderate Democrat”, former EPA attorney and State AG who pushed for the Tobacco settlement, and a woman. I’m expecting her to vote against. Not sure why FiveThirtyEight even has her on this list, other than her being in a state with a “toss-up” Senate election (update- polls now say she’s may be losing). Result – opposes.
  • Joe Manchin (D-WV) — The #1 “DINO” in the Senate, he often votes for Republicans. I expect he could probably be easily convinced to vote in favor. (i.e., if he votes for confirmation, Republicans with whom he has a career-long working relationship owe him a favor. If he votes against he loses his seat.)  Result: supports.

So overall, barring damning evidence in the hearings, I think Republicans just barely have the votes, tho with very high likelyhood of delays as individuals Senators extract concessions for themselves or their local sponsors – in particular Corker and Flake, who might see this as an opportunity to upgrade whatever part time gig they have lined up for their retirement (i.e., lobbying). Forgive me for assuming that most of the deciding Senators will not be voting on principle.


Wednesday (last week):

Senate Republicans are plowing on [TheHill], with planning a quick vote on embattled Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh.

Thursday (last week): UPDATE – the hearings happened today. Corker announces support. Committee is said to vote to proceed tomorrow (Friday 9/28), implying some support from Flake, the swing vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Full Senate confirmation vote as soon as next week .

Friday (last week): UPDATE – Donnelly (D-IN) says he opposes, with open-ended wording. Flake supports in committee but asks for 1 week delay of full Senate vote, pending an FBI investigation, which is to be strictly limited in duration. The delay will allow 3 things to happen.

  • Polling can be done specific to this issue, so the remaining Senators can factor in electoral impact — 4 of the senators above are in “toss-up” states (ND, IN, AZ, TN) in the coming election.
  • Flake (R-AZ) and Manchin (D-WV) get more time to auction off their support or opposition in the “favor economy” in the backrooms of Capitol Hill.
  • The FBI could potentially get both supporting and opposing witnesses under their supervision, to avoid any surprises once the matter is settled either way.

Dramatization, from a random blog’s comment section:

Enter Mr. Flake

Mr. Flake: “‘Zounds, but this is a kettle of consternation! I’m torn on one side, then t’other, by what I have heard! What a trying time for us men of good sense and good nature! I must mull it all over, like a stirred pot not ready yet to boil. We must all consult our consciences, gentlemen; we must all speak to our higher natures, before we decide our actions.. I always do such, though I know others will chart their course by the first wind. But I am a man of complex depths whose currents run varied and deep, so I must think, and study, and decide, no matter what agonies it may cause me. Now, I bid you all good day, while I retire to my rooms.”

Flake Exits

Lord Cynical: “Ah, there goes our good Mr. Flake, once again impressing us all with his vast reservoir of complexity and uncertainty. Do not bother him, he will soon return as always to vote for our design. But he needs must have his moment of attention, to show the world how profound he is. No matter, he will be gone from our body soon, undoubtedly to play his game with those who actually believe his protestations. Mr. Flake always does the necessary thing in the end, so thus maintains his small value to us for the moment. While we wait for him to return, let us toast to our imminent success.”

Flake Enters

Mr. Flake: “After such agonies of vacillation and torments of uncertainty, I have decided to put a Yea to your proposal. But please know that it was only after the gravest–”

Butler: “Sir, there is no need to spend further words on me. All parties are in the dining room, waiting for first course. I waited to serve it, because Lord Cynical assured me that you would be back in only a few minutes.”

Mr. Flake: “Ah, then, let us all dine!”

Monday: UPDATE – not much, polls trickling in. Here’s a fivethirtyeight podcast on the subject if you’re stuck somewhere for an hour.

They make a couple of points I’ll try to follow up.

  • College-educated women as the affected demographic.
  • They seem to think that rather than the sexual assault allegation itself, Kavanaugh’s drinking history as a college student, which he is now forced to defend or deny, is what could really hurt him (in the eyes of Senators making political calculations, that is).
  • Perceptions of Legitimacy to the supreme court (imaging if Nixon, when the supreme court requested he release the tapes which incriminated him, was in a political environment where the popular perception was that the supreme court was partisan biased for Democrats. Nixon may then have, perhaps, refused to turn the tapes over…. Now reverse all the polarity, and it is a situation that we may end up with, if the Kavanaugh nomination is pushed thru — Democrats no longer accepting the court’s legitimacy. With questionable rulings like Bush v Gore (also involving Kavanaugh) and Citizens United, that reputation is already shaky! Another committed federalist would bring more of that.

Tuesday: UPDATE – looks like the FBI investigation is going at light speed, and may be done [TheHill] today (update: nope). In the morning, Flake did another headfake, hinting possible opposition then quickly walking it back.

Wednesday: UPDATE – FBI will have report tomorrow [TheHill]. Super Duper Maximum Triple Secret.  There’s exactly 1 (printed?) copy, and Senators have to see it in a Super Duper Maximum Triple Secret room (w/o cel phones, one assumes). With the 2 parties taking turns having access, 1 hour at a time. Weird, huh?

Thursday: UPDATE – Report is “released” to Senate. Flake now hints at support for confirmation. Heitkamp (D-ND) finally speaks, opposes confirmation. That leaves Republicans within 1 vote, which they would have to get from Collins, Murkowski, or Manchin. (I would guess Manchin). Cloture vote (to end “debate” / prepare for final vote) scheduled for Friday.

Friday: UPDATE – Cloture vote took place. Murkowski and Collins spoke out, Murkowski against and Collins for confirmation. This is more or less it then, barring a change of heart by Flake, in which case Manchin (D-WV) is still there as a last vote for Republicans.


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