MANCHESTER, N.H. — US Senator Susan Collins of Maine on Friday night offered her most extensive remarks yet about her nationally watched decision making as she considers whether to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court in the coming days.
Speaking at Saint Anselm College, Collins, a Republican, did not offer a direct answer as to what her decision would be, when she would announce it, nor what would help make her mind though Republican leaders are hoping to have the Senate confirm Kavanaugh by Oct.1, when the court begins a new session.
But for 35 minutes straight, she was pressed by a former New Hampshire radio host about Kavanaugh: the process she is using to make a decision, the pressure she is under, and disclosing parts of her three hours of conversations with the nominee.
Kavanaugh, she said, told her, “I am not a rock-the-boat kind of judge.”
In recent weeks, Collins has grown to be the most prominently watched among a group of five senators — two Republicans and three Democrats — who are all officially undecided and are expected to determine whether Trump’s nominee will be confirmed in a Senate where Republicans only hold a 51-49 majority.
Collins and US Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are particularly under scrutiny because both Republicans have long said they are in favor of abortion rights and Kavanaugh opponents fear that if he joins the court he could overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
In the past, Collins has said she would never vote to put a judge on any federal court if the person nominated showed a “hostility” to the Roe decision and sought to overturn it.
The event was meant to honor “civility, cooperation, and compromise.” More than 400 were in the audience, including former US Supreme Court Justice David Souter. (Souter declined to comment afterward on what he heard.)
Collins said she discussed the Roe decision extensively with Kavanaugh in the context of whether he believes in precedents, “including decisions made in 1973 and reaffirmed by the court again and again.”
Collins said Kavanaugh told her he did believe in such precedents. In fact, Collins said, the answer he offered her was similar to statements affirming the concept of precedents that she got from John Roberts and Elena Kagen before she voted for them to join the Supreme Court.
The remark was her biggest tip of hand yet on how she might vote on Kavanaugh.
The four-term Senator has never voted against a US Supreme Court nominee, including those from both Democratic and Republican presidents.
However, Collins said she really wanted to get to the bottom to the allegation made by a woman who said Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school. She said she wanted both to testify under oath, which would be “very helpful in making my assessment” on how to vote.
In response to a question whether she would hire someone accused of sexual assault to join her staff and whether the same standard applies to Kavanaugh said she would never hire someone credibly accused of sexual assault, “if it’s credible, of course not.”
“We don’t know enough yet, so I can’t reach that conclusion” she said of the question about Kavanaugh in particular.
“In the end,” Collins said, “I have to be able to look in the mirror and say I did what I thought was right.”James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell