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Alaska Republican under pressure on Kavanaugh vote -- and not just because of new allegations

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowsi faces a difficult decision if Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to be a Supr...

Posted: Sep 27, 2018 5:39 AM
Updated: Sep 27, 2018 5:39 AM

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowsi faces a difficult decision if Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to be a Supreme Court justice goes to the full Senate for a vote -- and it's a decision she's not taking lightly.

But, she said, her vote will have nothing to do with the fact that she's a woman.

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When asked by a reporter Tuesday about how she's handling the weight of the shoulders considering the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are all men and she's woman, Murkowski was visibly put off by the question.

"Well, when you said on this decision, what decision do you mean?" she questioned the reporter, who was also female. "I don't know that I can answer your question because I'm not trying to reconstruct it but it sounds like you're suggesting that because I'm a woman I'm going to approach this differently than a man, is that what you're suggesting?"

She continued after: "I think it's important to remember this vote is about Judge Kavanaugh and his qualifications. I have suggested that we have kind of moved beyond the qualifications of the nominee and it has become more or not about women who have been subject to any form of assault, of violence, of intimidation -- that's a different issue than is Judge Kavanaugh qualified."

Throughout the entire nomination process, Murkowski has become one of the most-watched senators, along with her fellow moderate Republican colleague Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Senate Republicans have a 51-to-49 majority, so they can afford to lose only one vote assuming no Democrats vote for Kavanaugh.

And she has not yet shared how she'll vote, but has said she is waiting until testimony Thursday from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing him of sexual assault when they were in high school.

A third woman has presented the Senate Judiciary Committee with allegations of inappropriate behavior by Kavanaugh, accusing him of sexually aggressive behavior at alcohol-fueled parties when he was in high school.

The new accuser, Julie Swetnick, was identified by her lawyer Michael Avenatti on Twitter Wednesday morning. In a sworn statement prepared by Avenatti and submitted to committee, Swetnick said that Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge were present at a party where she was drugged and "gang raped."

Kavanaugh has denied all of the allegations against him -- including those from Ford and Swetnick.

Murkowski would not comment to reporters Wednesday while walking to votes about where she stands following the new allegations but a spokeswoman for the senator told CNN she canceled an Energy committee hearing, a panel which she chairs, so she can dedicate her time Thursday to watching the hearing.

Pressure from Alaska natives

While Murkowski has said her vote has nothing to do with her being a woman, her constituents have been putting pressure on her to oppose Kavanaugh's nomination for reasons not having to do with his assault allegations.

The Alaska Federation of Natives, a key group that backed Murkowski for the Senate during her write-in triumph in 2010, said in a statement last month that it "strongly" opposed Kavanaugh because of his "his views on the rights of Native peoples."

The AFN did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment on the recent allegations against Kavanaugh.

Murkowski said in an interview with CNN on Friday that she pressed Kavanaugh on her concerns about the issue of Alaska natives' rights.

"I did go to some considerable lengths to have Judge Kavanaugh directly address the concerns that have been raised by some of our Alaska native leaders through AFN and some issues that have presented themselves as a result of judge Kavanaugh's observation with regards to Native Hawaiians," she said.

Aside from the AFN, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, as well as Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, announced their opposition to Kavanaugh's nomination last week, saying his confirmation would threaten Alaskans' health care, labor rights and Native rights. Murkowski told CNN on Thursday she wasn't surprised by their statement but didn't say how it would affect her decision.

"He was leaning against -- I don't want to say supporting, he doesn't have a vote -- but he had been asked to weigh in and indicated he was leaning against Judge Kavanaugh," she said. "I didn't try to convince him, nor he of me. ... when his announcement came out yesterday, quite frankly it didn't surprise me."

Murkowski, who has represented Alaska in the Senate since 2002, made a name for herself within the Republican rank-and-file for not always voting with her party. Even though she's a member of the Republican Party, she won her election in 2010 as a write-in candidate after having been defeated by attorney Joe Miller in the primary.

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