Brett Kavanaugh to Be Rare Beneficiary of Senate Paired Voting

Votes of Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Steve Daines will be offset

Sens. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and  Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, center, will pair their votes on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Saturday, enabling Daines to attend his daughter’s wedding and Murkowski to voice her position. Also pictured above, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

When the Senate votes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Saturday, two senators will engage in a practice that’s all but died out.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the only member of the Republican Conference opposed to elevating the current D.C. Circuit Court judge to the high court, announced Friday that ordinarily she would vote “no.”

But Murkowski now intends to vote “present” to offset the absence of Republican Sen. Steve Daines, who will be in Montana to attend to his daughter’s wedding.

The vote on confirmation is expected late afternoon on Saturday.

Murkowski said in her floor speech Friday evening that she hoped after the bitter debate over Kavanaugh, the Senate could take a few steps back toward a more respectful tone.

“While I voted ‘no’ on cloture today, and I will be a ‘no’ tomorrow,” she said, “I will, in the final tally, be asked to be recorded as present, and I do this because a friend, a colleague of ours, is in Montana this evening and tomorrow at just about the same hour that we’re going to be voting. He’s going to be walking his daughter down the aisle, and he won’t be present to vote, and so I have extended this as a courtesy to my friend.”

“It will not change the outcome of the vote, but I do hope that it reminds us that we can take very small, very small, steps to be gracious with one another and maybe those small, gracious steps can lead to more,” Murkowski said.

Watch: High Tension on the Hill Leading Up to Kavanaugh Vote

Daines was prepared to hustle back to the Capitol (with the assistance of a private plane from his home-state colleague, Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte), but because Murkowski agreed to partake in what’s known as “paired voting,” that will not be necessary.

When votes are paired on the Senate floor, senators announce their intended votes in the Congressional Record, explaining that the offsetting opposite votes will not affect the outcome.

The practice was much more common when the parties had less ideological consistency. Northern Democrats would regularly pair off with their pro-segregation colleagues from the South.

Perhaps the most recent example of pairing on a floor vote came in 2014. In this instance, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, was against President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

But Levin voted present to create what is known as a “live pair” with fellow Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey, who was not present for the vote. Murkowski and Daines are expected to use the same procedure employed by Levin and Booker.

It goes without saying that the CFTC is not the Supreme Court, making the comity displayed by Murkowski more unusual.

The most notable pairing in recent memory came at the committee level in April this year, when Delaware Sen. Chris Coons left Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee fighting back tears after the Democrat agreed to change his committee vote on the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be secretary of State to “present,” allowing the nomination to be approved, 11-9, instead of deadlocking at 10-10. 

Coons’ move avoided forcing an ailing GOP senator, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, from having to get back to Capitol Hill for the markup.

Isakson was back home delivering the eulogy for a friend, and heading back to Washington would have entailed leaving the funeral in short order and embarking on a late-night journey that has become increasingly difficult for the Georgia senator, who has Parkinson’s disease.

Isakson and Coons are friends who also have the responsibility of being the bipartisan leaders of the Ethics Committee and have had to work in secret to investigate sensitive matters concerning their own colleagues.

“Having heard early this afternoon a request from my dear friend, Sen. Isakson, this was not the fact-pattern we had expected,” Coons said at the time. “I am recorded as voting against Mike Pompeo for secretary of State, but I will vote present.”

Among the most frequent Senate pairings when the practice was still common was between Republican Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Democrat Joseph R. Biden Jr., of Delaware.

The elderly Thumond would be able to go home by pairing with Biden when the Senate was voting late in the day, letting Biden catch his Amtrak ride back to Wilmington.

Watch: High Tension on the Hill Leading Up to Kavanaugh Vote

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