Tester, Daines split on Supreme Court nominee; vote expected Monday

Montana’s U.S. senators were divided Sunday on a vote that clears the way for the likely nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Montana’s junior Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, will vote to confirm Barrett. Senior Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, said he will not and was not given an opportunity to meet with Barrett through the nomination process, something that is normally afforded for senators.

Sunday’s vote was procedural and fell mostly along party lines, 51 to 48, with two Republican senators voting with all Democrats. The Republicans who voted no were U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska.

Barrett, who would be Republican President Donald J. Trump’s third justice placed on the court, is expected to be confirmed by the full U.S. Senate on Monday. That means she will be on the court for any election-related challenges that may happen after the Nov. 3 vote, as well as a hearing for a case challenging the Affordable Care Act set for the week after that.

Joining all but two of his fellow Senate Republicans, Daines voted for cloture, which ends debate and brings a vote on Barrett’s nomination, while Tester voted against it.

Daines in a speech on the Senate floor Saturday said confirming Barrett to the court would protect the Second Amendment.

“I have an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association and the Montana Shooting Sports Association. I firmly believe that a correct understanding, a profound understanding, of the Second Amendment is essential. In our discussion as with judge Barrett, she confirmed she has that understanding.”

Daines also said Barrett “would not bend to the radical fringe groups looking to kill Montana timber and coal jobs.” Daines has often criticized lawsuits filed by environmental groups over concerns that have halted projects.

Tester, whose office said in an email Sunday that he had “repeatedly requested” a meeting with Barrett, was not able to talk with the judge because the White House did not make her available over telephone or for a meeting.

In a statement, Tester said it was wrong for the Senate to move forward with Barrett’s confirmation vote because it is not following the same set of rules it did when Republicans blocked former Democratic President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland in March 2016 before that fall’s presidential election.

“Montanans are already voting in this election, and I believe it is deeply irresponsible to ram a partisan nomination through in the final days before polls close, a precedent my Republican colleagues established four years ago and are breaking now,” Tester said in the statement. “With health coverage for 120 million Americans with pre-existing conditions soon to be decided by the Court, I cannot support Judge Barrett’s nomination because I do not believe we should be confirming a Supreme Court Justice, no matter who that is, before the American people have a chance to make their voices heard.”

In 2016 Daines was among the Senate Republicans who opposed allowing Garland’s nomination to move forward. 

In a television interview on the “Face the State” program broadcast on MTN stations that year, Daines said “… given the people have started to vote already, to put a nominee in the middle of that kind of very hyper-politicized environment, I do not think is right for the institution. And frankly, let the people speak, and we’ll move forward in January of 2017.”

A spokeswoman for Daines said last month the senator points to “clear differences” between Garland’s nomination and Barrett’s. In 2016, Obama was termed out from seeking reelection and the Senate was controlled by the opposite party of the presidency.

Daines is running for reelection this year against Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock in what’s expected to be a close race. In his speech on the Senate floor, Daines also raised concern over the prospect of “packing the court.”

In a debate earlier this month, Bullock said Barrett should not be confirmed and that if she was, he would be open to considering changes he believes would make the court less political.

“We need to figure out the ways to actually get the politics out of the court. That’s anything from a judicial standards commission, or we’ll look at any other thing that might be suggested, including adding justices,” Bullock said in that debate.

Daines in his Senate floor speech said that was “an attack on our Montana way of life” and a “dangerous power-grab proposal.”