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Sen. Bill Cassidy says he'll vote no on Jackson confirmation. What does that mean for 2023 gov race?

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U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy

The U.S. Senate is expected to make history this week by confirming the first Black woman to the United States Supreme Court – Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. In Louisiana, people have been looking to Sen. Bill Cassidy’s vote on the confirmation as a possible indicator of his intention to run for governor in 2023 as a moderate Republican in what is likely to be a GOP-dominated field.

Cassidy scored points with Democrats and earned national media attention when he and six other Republicans voted to convict former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial. Months later, Cassidy was among a handful of GOP Senators who took part in the final negotiations on President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure deal. Some political observers saw Jackson’s confirmation vote as another chance for Cassidy to court Democratic and moderate voters ahead of the 2023 contest.

But on Monday, Cassidy released a statement saying he would vote against Jackson’s nomination later this week.

Capitol Access reporter Paul Braun spoke to News Director Patrick Madden about the announcement and what it might mean for Cassidy’s possible gubernatorial bid.

Patrick Madden: How did Sen. Cassidy say he will vote regarding Judge Jackson and her confirmation to the Supreme Court?

Paul Braun: Cassidy said in a statement that he met with Jackson he called her gracious, intelligent and accomplished, but he said he would not vote to confirm her to the US Supreme Court. Not because she isn't qualified, he agreed she is, but because he doesn't agree with her interpretation of the Constitution. Cassidy said that the quote political left set this standard by opposing the confirmations of former President Donald Trump's appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, based on their presumed political leanings.

That's not exactly true. Hyper-partisanship and the Supreme Court confirmation process definitely predates the Trump administration. You may remember that Republicans blocked any kind of confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland, President Obama's Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. And Democrats' concerns over Kavanaugh in particular had more to do with questions raised about his character than his ideology.

But Cassidy isn't the only Republican in the Senate to harbor some bitterness over Democrats' treatment of President Trump's nominees. It's something that came up repeatedly in the judiciary committee's confirmation hearings.

PM: So, Paul, what does this “no” vote mean for Cassidy’s gubernatorial aspirations?

PB: That’s hard to say with about a year and a half between us and election day. The list of folks who are expected to run – Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Attorney General Jeff Landry, Treasurer John Schroder – are much more interested in firing up the Republican base than they are in reaching across the ever-widening partisan divide. That’s a better way to raise money for what will definitely be an expensive race.

But that doesn’t mean that Cassidy, or another moderate candidate, would be out of the running.

Louisiana’s open primary system pits all candidates – regardless of party – against each other, which gives moderates a much better chance than a party primary system, which is more likely to advance candidates that appeal to the far reaches of their party to a runoff.

Cassidy’s chances depend a lot on who gets in the race. Pollster John Couvillon of JMC Analytics put out a poll last week that presented folks with a long list of possible gubernatorial candidates – including a handful of people who haven’t expressed their intention to run but would be well-positioned to do so.

Cassidy finished around the middle of the pack, but Couvillon said that could change a lot depending on who decides to enter the race or sit out.

Bottom line. It’s far too early to tell.

And I should say, not everyone is convinced Cassidy is seriously considering a run. Jeremy Alford, who is following the race for La Politics, said Cassidy’s only entertaining the speculation because it helps him with his national political agenda. And this vote on Jackson is a reminder to the left-leaning politicos and columnists fanning the flames that at the end of the day Cassidy is still a conservative Republican.

PM: Cassidy isn’t the only Louisiana Senator who has been outspoken on this. Sen. John Kennedy is on the Judiciary Committee and will have a chance to vote on Jackson. Where does he stand?

PB: Yes, unsurprisingly, Senator Kennedy opposes Jackson's confirmation. That’s been clear from the get-go. The Senate Judiciary Committee allowed members to make final statements about Jackson's nomination on Monday afternoon, and Kennedy criticized Jackson for dodging questions and said her opinions showed she believes in a far-reaching judiciary.

He voted no on advancing her nomination to the full Senate. But the committee ultimately sent Jackson up to the full Senate for debate.

None of that really matters for Jackson's confirmation. Democrats can get it done without any bipartisan support and it appears they've locked up the votes. That full Senate vote could come as early as Thursday.

The transcript of this conversation was edited for clarity.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.