Dems in terrible bind on Kavanaugh nomination

Senate Democrats are in a terrible bind as they search for a strategy to block Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who is expected to determine the ideological balance of the court for decades.

Leadership is faced with the challenge of catering to two factions in the party. On one side, red-state Democrats who are worried that opposing Kavanaugh could imperil their reelection chances in November, and with it the party’s hope of winning the majority in the Senate.

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On the other, a progressive base that is demanding Democrats engage in a full-on attack, since they see President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL freezes policy barring players from protesting during anthem McConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Petition urges University of Virginia not to hire Marc Short MORE’s pick as a serious threat to liberal values.

The balancing act will soon play out when Democrats decide what strategy and tactics to employ.

Senate Democratic leaders this week appeared to try to tamp down expectations of the party’s progressive base, with Minority 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 (D-N.Y.) saying the procedural options for Democrats “are not that large.”

“There is no way we can prevent the Senate from meeting. There's been some discussion about that, but it just wouldn't happen,” Schumer told reporters during a weekly press conference when asked about the possibility of actions like boycotting a confirmation hearing.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials Deal to fix family separations hits snag in the Senate Senate Democrats block resolution supporting ICE MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, added that he has been approached by constituents who have unrealistic expectations about what Democrats can do.

“Some of the things that have been in blogs and suggested do not even understand the basics of the Senate,” he said. “Some of the people who have come up to me at parades and said, ‘Shut ‘em down, do this, do that,’ it reflects a limited understanding of how the Senate operates.”

Democrats have largely stayed mum on how far they would be willing to go to slow-walk Kavanaugh as he moves through the confirmation process. Instead, they’ve focused this week on requesting sufficient time to review Kavanaugh’s long paper trail.

Democrats can’t block the nomination on their own; Republicans nixed the 60-vote filibuster for Supreme Court nominations last year.

But the Senate’s rulebook allows them to temporarily delay Kavanaugh’s nomination in committee or limit the ability for committees to meet, a move that would gridlock the Senate’s work and appease some on the left.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate GOP breaks record on confirming Trump picks for key court Deal to fix family separations hits snag in the Senate Election 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 MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, expects Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing to begin after Labor Day, with Republicans hoping to get him on the bench before the Supreme Court’s next term begins, in early October.

Democrats are under enormous pressure to try to block Kavanaugh by all available means, with outside group saying Schumer must keep the caucus united.

Durbin on Wednesday wouldn’t rule out that Democrats could ultimately use the chamber’s rulebook to try to slow things down.

“We’re taking a careful look at every suggestion and we’re going to use what we consider the appropriate procedures,” he said.

While there is a pressure from the left to play hardball to try to gum up the Senate, and even punish Democratic senators who support Kavanaugh, such tactics could backfire for the 10 red-state Democrats facing reelection in states Trump won in 2016. 

GOP Senate candidates are eager to make the Supreme Court fight, which they expect to fire up their base, a focal point in the battle for the chamber, and in doing so paint Democrats as obstructionists.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterOvernight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Senate to vote Monday on Trump's VA nominee On The Money: Trump rips Fed over rate hikes | Dems fume as consumer agency pick refuses to discuss border policy | Senate panel clears Trump IRS nominee MORE (D-Mont.), who is seeking reelection, declined to discuss using procedural tactics, saying he was focused on vetting Kavanaugh.

“At this moment in time we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, which is gathering information and going from there,” he said.

Other red-state Democrats have also shown little interest in slowing down Kavanaugh’s nomination, noting that they disagreed with how Republicans in 2016 blocked consideration of Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandPoll: Americans more divided on Trump Supreme Court pick than any other since 1987 Don’t worry (too much) about Kavanaugh changing the Supreme Court Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE, President Obama’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

“I thought how it's been handled previously, with no decorum and no civility, was wrong,” Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Health Care: Trump officials explore importing prescription drugs | Key ObamaCare, drug pricing regs under review | GOP looks to blunt attacks on rising premiums | Merck to lower some drug prices Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Election 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 MORE (D-W.Va.) recently told reporters, when asked about the possibility of delaying Kavanaugh’s nomination until after the November midterm elections.

Democratic challengers in red states also seem unwilling to back the use of stalling tactics. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, the Democratic Senate candidate in Tennessee, called for Kavanaugh to be given a “fair and timely confirmation hearing.”

Leadership is facing additional pressure from liberal groups that want party leaders to “whip the vote” and make sure the 49 members in the caucus remain united, to increase their odds of success.

In addition to Manchin, Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Election 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 MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Fed chief lays out risks of trade war MORE (Ind.) voted for now-Justice Neil Gorsuch — Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee — and have said they are keeping an open mind about Kavanaugh.

Elizabeth Beavers, policy director for the liberal Indivisible Project, said if there was a “meaningful way” for Democrats to “slow things” for Kavanaugh, then “they should always do that.” 

But, she added, the group was more focused on Schumer and trying to get all Democrats to come out quickly in opposition to Kavanaugh.

“It’s literally the minority leader's job to try to keep party members in line,” Beavers said.

Heidi Hess, co-director of the progressive group Credo Action, suggested Schumer should punish senators who vote for Kavanaugh by removing them for leadership posts. Manchin is a member of Schumer’s leadership team.

“It doesn't make sense that he would have somebody in his leadership team that would vote for Kavanaugh,” Hess said

Democrats have long argued that it's unrealistic to think leadership can pressure members into voting a certain way, and it isn't Schumer's style to twist the arms of his vulnerable incumbents.

But, Hess said, "If he's a leader who's not going to do that, then we need a different leader."

Senate Democrats acknowledged that voters in their party are frustrated, but Democrats are trying to keep the focus on Kavanaugh and Republicans.

In this week’s first wave of press conferences, the focus was on the potential impact Kavanaugh could have on health care, an issue they think could unite the party and maybe even win over GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Russia furor grips Washington Overnight Health Care: Novartis pulls back on drug price hikes | House Dems launch Medicare for All caucus | Trump officials pushing ahead on Medicaid work requirements Senate panel to vote next week on banning 'gag clauses' in pharmacy contracts MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (Alaska), who both voted against an effort by Republicans last year to repeal ObamaCare.

But getting support from other GOP senators is unlikely, despite the aspirations of some Democratic voters. Every Republican senator voted for Gorsuch last year.

When asked about what kind of feedback he’s gotten from party constituents on Kavanaugh’s nomination, Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDem senator ties Kavanaugh confirmation vote to Trump-Putin controversy Full interview: Chris Murphy speaks out on the Trump-Putin meeting and what it means Dem senator: NATO has become 'functionally obsolete' under Trump MORE (D-Conn.) said, “I think they want us to mount a national campaign to try to convince Republicans to vote against this guy.”