Liberals threaten to primary over Gorsuch

Liberals threaten to primary over Gorsuch
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Left-leaning groups are sending a stern message to Democrats who consider backing President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court: Do it and risk a primary challenge in 2018.

Liberal activists say Senate Democrats are not doing enough to focus the public’s attention on Neil Gorsuch, a conservative judge who has attracted praise from both sides of the aisle. 

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“A Democrat that votes for cloture on Gorsuch is a Democrat voting to overturn Roe,” said Heidi Hess, senior campaign manager at Credo Action, a liberal advocacy group with an email network of 5 million people, referring to the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s right to an abortion.

“This is absolutely a fight they should be fighting and that we will hold them accountable if they don’t fight it,” she said.

Although Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats slam Trump for considering Putin’s ’absurd’ request to question Americans Judge Kavanaugh confounds the left This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation MORE (N.Y.) came out strongly against Gorsuch shortly after he was nominated, the liberal grassroots believe he has let the reins slacken on moderate Democrats who are swing votes. 

Three centrist Democrats up for reelection next year — Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinElection Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Morrisey accuses Manchin of 'lying' to Trump, attacks ‘liberal’ record MORE (W.Va.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterElection Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Fed chief lays out risks of trade war MORE (Mont.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Fed chief lays out risks of trade war Doug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee MORE (Ind.) — and independent Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingBipartisan bill would bring needed funds to deteriorating National Park Service infrastructure Lawmakers say Trump tariffs are threatening local newspapers Senate adds members to pro-NATO group MORE (Maine) applauded when Trump touted Gorsuch during his address to Congress last week.

Manchin has touted the nominee’s “impeccable credentials” and pointed to the Senate’s unanimous consent to put him on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006.

Another centrist Democrat, Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetHarley stunner spikes tension with Trump over trade policy Races to watch in Tuesday’s primaries Democrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor MORE (Colo.), was recently spotted strolling with the judge — a Colorado native — in downtown Denver, and hundreds of lawyers from the state have urged Bennet to back him.   

Meanwhile, Tim Swarens, the opinion editor at the Indianapolis Star, predicts Donnelly will vote for Gorsuch.

The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group that backs Gorsuch, is spending a $10 million budget airing ads promoting his record in red states represented by Democratic senators.

The media response from the left has been muted.

People for the American Way, a liberal group, launched a 30-second online ad in early February charging that Gorsuch doesn’t respect the Constitution and would “put powerful interests ahead of the American people.” Overall, however, conservatives are winning the message war.

Democratic efforts to torpedo Gorsuch have stalled because he isn’t viewed as a controversial pick — at least not yet. The biggest headlines Gorsuch attracted occurred after Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the Supreme Court nominee labeled Trump’s tweets attacking federal judges “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” The White House quickly said Blumenthal misrepresented what Gorsuch said in their private meeting. 

The Blumenthal-Gorsuch exchange will undoubtedly be addressed in his confirmation hearing, but it’s unlikely to derail his nomination. 

One of the main rallying cries among liberal activists during last year’s presidential election was that the winner would shape the Supreme Court for years to come.

But now that Trump is in office and has nominated someone who could become the most conservative member of the court, there’s been relatively little debate in Washington and in the media on the topic.

“We’re hearing an enormous amount of anxiety among the grassroots — and this isn’t just our membership — about the lack of conversation they’re hearing,” said Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading abortion-rights advocacy group.

“The people are not feeling like the attention is being paid to it that’s commensurate with the magnitude of the issue,” she said.

Hogue said if Democrats vote for Gorsuch, voters who favor abortion rights would take it extremely seriously.

“This is a do-or-die issue,” she said. “It is of supreme concern to people around the country.”

Asked if Democrats who vote for Gorsuch might face primary challenges, Hogue replied, “We would keep all options on the table.”

Eleven liberal groups, led by NARAL Pro-Choice America, sent a letter to Senate Democrats Monday criticizing them for not putting up more of a fight against Gorsuch.

“Democrats have failed to demonstrate a strong, unified resistance to this nominee despite the fact that he is an ultra-conservative jurist who will undermine our basic freedoms and threaten the independence of the federal judiciary. We need you to do better,” they wrote.

The signatories included 350 Action, he Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communications Workers of America, Credo Action, Demos Action, Domestic Worker Legacy Fund, MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union, the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund and the Working Families Party.

The lack of an all-out counteroffensive against Gorsuch, whose confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin March 20, is raising concerns that Democratic lawmakers are getting weary of battling Trump at every turn.

Senate Democrats have already held three all-night debates to protest Trump Cabinet picks — Betsy DeVos, Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsKey GOP lawmaker throws cold water on Rosenstein impeachment With new immigration policy, Trump administration gutting the right to asylum Homeland Security advisory council members resign over family separations: report MORE and Scott Pruitt — the president’s nominees to head the Education Department, the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, respectively. All three were confirmed, though Trump’s initial pick for the Labor Department withdrew his name for consideration amid controversy.

After a seven-week stretch without a recess — a longer than usual D.C. work period for a chamber that has several members in their 70s and 80s — there was a palpable sense of fatigue. Rick Perry, Trump’s choice to head the Energy Department, a department he once pledged to abolish, was confirmed last week with little drama.

A senior Democratic aide rejected the notion that Senate Democrats are getting weary and vowed a stiff fight against Gorsuch as his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee draws closer.

“No one is tired, and the caucus is ready to give him the very, very rigorous review that he deserves. He has a very high bar to clear given the Trump administration’s disdain for the rule of law,” said the aide. “He has a very rough road ahead of him to prove that he can be that independent check.”

Nevertheless, liberal operatives are dissatisfied with what they see as a lack of urgency on a lifetime appointment that could have a much longer-lasting impact on the national policy climate than Trump’s Cabinet picks.

They are talking about flooding Senate offices with calls, sending activists to Capitol Hill with petitions, organizing protests and storming town hall meetings

But they recognize that in the charged atmosphere that has descended on Washington since Trump’s swearing-in, the bar for getting a senator’s — and the public’s — attention has been raised.

Congressional phone lines have been jammed for weeks, and people have been taking to the streets to protest Trump’s actions since Election Day.

There’s a growing realization that the best way to yank Democrats out of possible complacency over the Supreme Court debate is to drop the P-bomb: primary challenge.

Activists are warming up to the threat leveled by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore. He tweeted on Feb. 1 that if Democrats don’t block Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, “we will find a true progressive and primary u in the next election.”

Neil Sroka, communications director for Democracy for America, a liberal advocacy group with 1 million members nationwide, says any Democrat who votes for Gorsuch will be out of step with the party’s base.

“If you’re voting against the interests of the vast majority of Americans by voting for someone like Gorsuch for this Supreme Court position, that should be one of many things that should open you up to primary challengers,” he said.

That’s a message that’s cutting through the noise and waking up centrist Democrats facing reelection.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s walk-back fails to stem outrage on Putin meeting Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Senate Dems lock in million in TV airtime MORE (D-Mo.), who is one of 10 Democrats up for reelection next year in states Trump won, said on “The Mark Reardon Show” last month that she’s aware of a likely backlash from the base if she votes for the president’s nominees.

“I may have a primary, because there is in our party now some of the same kind of enthusiasm at the base that the Republican Party had with the Tea Party,” she said. “Many of those people are very impatient with me because they don’t think I’m pure. For example, they think I should be voting against all of Trump’s nominees, and of course, I’m judging each nominee on its own merit.”