Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are two of the conference’s most moderate Republicans. Many of the party’s legislative battles hinge on their support, and they often vote the same way. Kavanaugh’s confirmation, however, represented a pivotal moment in which Collins and Murkowski took opposing views. On Saturday, Collins voted “yea.” Murkowski voted “present” as a courtesy to Senator Steve Daines, a Republican who missed the vote because of his daughter’s wedding.
For Republicans, this split could prove meaningful for their chances in the midterms. The party now has two key female figureheads when it comes to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. There’s Collins, who stuck with her party. And there’s Murkowski, the sole Republican to break rank.
The question now: Who will GOP voters—and, specifically, suburban women—side with in November?
Voters were finally given a window into Collins’s support for the nominee on Friday. At 3:05 p.m., she stood from her seat in the upper chamber to begin the speech that determined Kavanaugh’s fate.
She’d barely breathed a sentence before protesters erupted. “Show up for Maine women! Vote ‘no’!” began their chant. Security swiftly ushered them out.
Collins continued unrattled. Over the next hour, she laid out the reasons she would be voting to confirm Kavanaugh on Saturday as the next U.S. Supreme Court justice. She talked about the sexual-assault allegations lodged against Kavanaugh. She called Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony “sincere, painful, and compelling.” But, Collins concluded, “fairness would dictate that the claims should at least meet the standard of more likely than not.” The allegations, she said, “failed to meet [that] standard.”
Sitting behind Collins during her entire speech were fellow Republican Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith and Shelley Moore Capito. It was a compelling image: these two women, in full view on camera, supporting their colleague as she, in essence, determined the tilt of the Court for the next 40-plus years.
Multiple GOP officials and operatives I spoke to concluded that Collins’s speech may prove the rallying cry GOP women needed—and may have been lacking—to turn out in November. Until Collins’s speech, the faces of the pro-confirmation movement were overwhelmingly male: the Chuck Grassleys, Orrin Hatches, and Lindsey Grahams of the conference. That may be good for ensuring turnout among the traditional Republican base—middle age–to-elderly white men. But many Republicans I’ve spoken to this week have expressed worry that conservative women haven’t had an avatar for their beliefs in this fight.
On Friday, though, Collins may have changed that.
“Collins, backed by two of her female colleagues, gave the vote the female voice Republicans needed,” Doug Heye, former communications director for the Republican National Committee, told me. “No doubt the past two weeks have been contentious, but if the deciding vote and speech had come from a man, there could have been a backlash from independent women voters.”