Murkowski is not yet sure what to do.
“The difference is, you have nine people who sit on the highest court in the country, who are there for life, and it requires a level of review and scrutiny that is in line with the position,” Murkowski told CNN. “So yeah, this is a different game.”
Murkowski is in a bind. If she votes for Jackson, she’s bound to give fresh ammunition to a Trump-backed challenger trying to remove her from the seat she’s held for the past two decades. Yet if she opposes Jackson, she’ll be accused of reversing course to insulate herself from campaign attacks.
The Alaska moderate is widely viewed in the Senate as one of the biggest wild cards in what is expected to be a mostly party-line affair. If she votes no, it’s possible that Jackson could win only two GOP votes or perhaps even just one, underscoring how deeply partisan Supreme Court fights have become.
“I’m serving a term for six years as a senior senator. I’m interviewing somebody who’s going to be there for decades, decades and decades. So this is not about me,” Murkowski said. “This is about her. This is about the Supreme Court.”
“You point out the obvious that I’ve got other considerations that go on, but our reality is this is a really big deal,” she added.
Democrats recognize winning much GOP support is unlikely, given the polarized nature of modern-era court fights, and unnecessary given they are likely to hold all 50 of their members together to win her confirmation. But they hope that Jackson joins the court with bipartisan credentials, giving a boost to her, Biden and the court’s image as a nonpartisan institution.
“It’s a process that I will not be handling alone,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, of winning GOP support. “She is actively meeting with senators, and I think she is the most persuasive tool, strategy that we can use. I think she makes an excellent impression, answers questions professionally, and has a resume that is as strong as anyone can ask for. ”
Murkowski has yet to meet with Jackson, waiting for her to finish meetings with members of the Judiciary Committee, on which she does not serve.
But Murkowski faces a tough decision: support Jackson and risk a backlash from the right or oppose her and appear like she’s flip-flopping in the middle of a reelection campaign. So far, Republicans have criticized Jackson’s elite educational background, questioned her views on crime and pointed out the support she holds from left-wing groups.
Asked why she backed Jackson for the DC Circuit last year, the Alaska Republican told CNN in the interview that the judge was qualified for the promotion.
“I looked at her record, as it was at that point, and gave an evaluation and said she got the qualifications,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski and her campaign maintained that just because she voted for Jackson in the past does not mean that she will support the nominee for a different position.
In 2020, Murkowski opposed moving forward with Barrett’s nomination since it was so close to the presidential election, although she ultimately voted for Barrett after Republicans decided to push forward the nomination anyway.
“Probably the most important votes a senator can cast are those for lifetime appointments for federal judges, and especially for the Supreme Court,” Tshibaka told CNN in a statement. “Lisa Murkowski has spent her career being a dependable vote for leftist judges and opposing the nominations of solid, constitutionalist judges like Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.”
“She has done this over and over to make herself popular with her DC insider friends, but it’s not what Alaskans want,” Tshibaka added. “Her votes have cost Alaska dearly, time and time again.”
While conservative voters might oppose Murkowski for supporting Jackson, moderate voters could reward her. Alaska has a new election system where candidates run together in a nonpartisan primary, and the top four finishers advance to the general election, when voters rank their preferences.
Murkowski’s record on judicial nominees
Murkowski has been more deferential to Biden’s judicial nominees than many of her Republican colleagues. The Senate has voted to confirm 46 of Biden’s federal circuit and district judges. Murkowski supported 37, opposed six, and did not vote on three of them, according to a CNN review.
Murkowski was more willing to consider Obama’s nominees too, even though she did not support his Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, in 2009 and 2010.
But Murkowski is no stranger to difficult votes. Tshibaka was endorsed by Trump and the Alaska Republican State Central Committee after Murkowski voted to convict the former President of “incitement of insurrection” in the impeachment trial following the attack on the Capitol last year. She was also a rare Republican vote to doom the party’s bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act under Trump.
Besides Murkowski, only a handful of Republican senators appear open to the prospect of voting for Jackson.
“I’m looking to meet her and we’ll see,” Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, who is retiring, told CNN when asked if he’s open to backing her.
Asked why he voted against her for the DC Circuit last year, Romney said: “We took a review of some of the cases that she decided and felt that they suggested she was not in the mainstream of judicial thought.”
GOP leaders say no matter how many of their members vote for Jackson, the outcome will be the same.
“She’s going to get confirmed,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of GOP leadership, told CNN. “I’ll make that wild prediction.”
CNN’s Morgan Rimmer contributed to this story.