Though they reached opposite conclusions, both women had faced similar political pressure heading into Friday's key vote on Kavanaugh's high court nomination. As moderates who support abortion rights, their joint opposition could have been enough to sink Kavanaugh, whose nomination was thrust into uncertainty following sexual assault allegations.
Ultimately, it was Collins who put Kavanaugh on the brink of a lifetime appointment. Minutes after she finished speaking, West Virginia Democratic Sen.
All three senators — along with
In the end, Collins and Murkowski diverged.
Collins told a rapt
Murkowski chose the opposite path.
"I believe that
While she respects her colleagues' support for Kavanaugh, Murkowski said, "I also that think we're at a place where we need to think about the credibility and integrity of our institutions."
Within minutes of their announcements, potential political challengers to both Collins and Murkowski emerged.
"I think what Susan did today was rise to the occasion when the stakes were so high," said Sen.
Flake said he thinks "the world" of Murkowski and said she made her own decision despite intense pressure to vote yes. "I admire her a lot," he said.
Murkowski said later she opposes Kavanaugh but will ask to be recorded as "present" during Saturday's confirmation vote to accommodate Republican Sen.
Murkowski said her decision was "agonizing" and she was "truly leaning" toward confirming Kavanaugh. But after watching his testimony, she said, she could not in her conscience conclude "that he is the right person" for the court at this time.
Murkowski's vote was the latest example of the independent streak she forged since overcoming a Republican primary challenge in 2010 to win re-election as a rare write-in candidate. She was re-elected in 2016.
Murkowski has expressed unease with the sexual assault allegations lodged against Kavanaugh, which he denies. She has faced pressure from home state Alaskans, including Native Alaskan women, who have described the scourge of sexual assault.
Collins took pains to say she believes Ford suffered a sexual assault that "has upended her life," but said she was not convinced Kavanaugh was the culprit. None of the people at the high school gathering where Ford said the assault took place have corroborated her account, Collins said.
"Believe me I struggled with it for a long time," Collins said after her speech. "I found
Even so, Collins said she hopes the ugly fight over Kavanaugh's confirmation will raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual assault. She supports the #MeToo movement, Collins said, calling it badly needed and long overdue.
Collins has never opposed a
Besides interviewing and talking to people who know Kavanaugh, Collins said she assembled a team of 19 attorneys to assist her in examining his judicial record. She called the appeals court judge eminently qualified, adding that his judicial philosophy is well within the mainstream.
In keeping with her deliberative style, Collins had kept mum for weeks about how she would vote.
Still, she sent signals that Kavanaugh had cleared a hurdle by reassuring her that he believed the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights is settled law.
Collins and Murkowski are the only
Murkowski also rendered her decision Friday in dramatic fashion. As the clerk read names in alphabetical order on a procedural vote to move the nomination forward, all eyes were on Murkowski.
When it was her turn, Murkowski stood up, paused, and whispered "no," her voice barely audible. Then she took her seat, looking down with a stone-faced expression.
Collins, who sits next to Murkowski, leaned over and put her hand on the arm of Murkowski's chair. The two huddled in deep conversation.