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White House set to stay in Supreme Court suspense until after KBJ’s hearings

Sen. Susan Collins had a favorable review of Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson after meeting with her for 90 minutes Tuesday, but she’s staying mum on her support until the confirmation hearings are over.

Following their one-on-one meeting, the Maine Republican — who represents Democrats’ best chance for a GOP vote to confirm Jackson — called Jackson “impressive” and described their conversation as “lengthy and very productive.”

“Obviously, I don’t agree with her on every decision that she has rendered,” Collins said. “But I felt that what I did get from her is that she takes a very thorough, careful approach in applying the law to the facts of the case, and that is what I want to see in a judge.”

Those types of statements far from guarantee her support, though the White House is sitting at rapt attention. There’s a significant push to get Collins on board; Biden has called her three times to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy, including the day Jackson was nominated.

And Biden isn’t alone. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he phoned the Maine Republican “within 48 hours, maybe within 24 hours” after hearing of Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement. But Durbin declined to speculate about where Collins might come down on Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

“Susan and I are friends,” Durbin said. “She is open-minded on this nomination, I’ve asked her to meet with the judge and requested the information that will help her make up her mind in a favorable way.”

Collins is one of three Senate Republicans who supported Jackson’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last year. The other two — Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have yet to meet with the Supreme Court pick. Graham, however, described Jackson as the pick of the “radical left,” after pushing for South Carolina Judge J. Michelle Childs to replace Breyer instead.

A senator’s support for a circuit court nominee doesn’t guarantee a “yes” vote if they’re picked for the Supreme Court. Murkowski told reporters Tuesday that she will need to do a “deeper dive” on Jackson.

“The difference is we’ve got nine people who sit on the highest court of the land, who are there for life,” Murkowski said. “It requires a level of review and scrutiny that’s in line with the position.”

Jackson is expected to receive full support from the 50-member Democratic caucus, which can confirm her without Republican votes. Still, Democrats and the White House are hoping to avoid a situation like the 2020 confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who became the first Supreme Court justice in more than 150 years not to receive a single vote from the minority party.

Collins has so far supported 87 percent of Biden’s judicial nominees, the most of any Republican senator, and voted for six of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices. She opposed Barrett’s nomination to the high court, citing the proximity to the 2020 election.

The Mainer is known for her careful scrutiny of nominees — she commonly meets with judicial nominees for a lengthy amount of time. In 2018, she met with President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick Justice Brett Kavanaugh for more than two hours.

Former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Jackson’s sherpa, said the conversation with Collins was “helpful and constructive” and said the White House expected that meeting “to go a little bit longer than some of the others.”

In addition to Collins, Jackson met Tuesday with GOP senators Rick Scott of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, with whom Jackson went to law school. She also met Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, including Sens. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin Jackson’s hearings March 21.

While some Republicans have raised concerns about Democrats’ push to confirm Jackson before the Easter recess, Collins said Tuesday she has “confidence” in Durbin to do a “thorough and fair set of hearings.”

“It’s important to recognize that she has been confirmed three times now, so this is not a candidate who is a blank slate to us,” she said. “In addition, to spend more than an hour and half one-on-one with the judicial nominee gives you quite a bit of information.”

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