Since tapes emerged Friday confirming Donald Trump felt his celebrity entitled him to sexually assault women with impunity, 11 Republicans in the Senate have abandoned their previous support for the GOP nominee.
The new defectors are Sens. Mike Crapo (R-UT), Mike Lee (R-UT), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and John Thune (R-SD).
They join four caucus-mates — Sens. Ben Sasse (R-NE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Susan Collins (R-ME) — who had already publicly said they would not vote for the man their party nominated amid much fanfare this summer.
Yet all 14 of those politicians are participating in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Supreme Court blockade, which began before former Justice Antonin Scalia’s body was cold. (Collins has met with Garland and called publicly for confirmation hearings.)
McConnell announced he’d block all consideration of Supreme Court nominees about one hour after Scalia’s death. With the GOP primary squarely underway at that point, he put his caucus on track to ride or die with whoever won the nomination.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is perhaps the only single member of McConnell’s human wall with the power to undo it. If he chose to schedule hearings to consider President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, it might lead to votes where the 15 Trump defectors could put action to their recent political posturing against the nominee by breaking a McConnell-led filibuster effort.
But Grassley’s showing no signs of joining the insurrection, content to condemn Trump’s remarks and point to his stilted apology for them. “The comments were terrible and shameful, and this kind of talk about our fellow human beings shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone,” Grassley told an Iowa news station over the weekend. “His apology was necessary and appropriate.”
Had Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) not decided late last month to abandon his earlier principled refusal to do business with Trump, we’d be at an even 16 anti-Trump Senate Republican votes.
But even without the popular Texas politician, there are more than enough anti-Trump Republicans to seal a cloture vote and return the high court to its full function.
Some of the new defectors, notably Flake and McCain, had been only reluctant Trump supporters who have crossed political swords with the nominee before. But others were seen as something like allies.
Trump has said Lee would be on his shortlist to fill the court vacancy these Republicans are holding open. Ayotte is barely a week on from a debate where she said Trump could be a role model for America’s children.
This article initially included Sen. Collins in the group that supports the nomination obstruction. She has publicly called for Garland to receive confirmation hearings.