Delaying a SCOTUS showdown a better strategic move for Democrats

And I hate losing, Chavy. I hate it. I hate losing more than I even wanna win, and there’s a difference.  – Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Money Ball

Last week, I ran into an old friend who is also a prominent leader in the progressive community. In reference to the impending Supreme Court filibuster she asked me whether “We are going to win this thing.” To which I replied, it depends on your definition of winning. 


I find that conversation and the quote from Moneyball on my mind as the Senate heads towards invoking nuclear option, because for the life of me I don’t see a win for Senate Democrats or the American people if a filibuster of Neil Gorsuch results in the changing of the Senate rules.

I empathize with my fellow Democrats who view Gorsuch as unacceptable and believe we were robbed of Merrick Garland’s confirmation. Further, I believe Senate Republicans are mostly to blame for the unraveling of Senate decorum. However, I wasn’t a fan of the steps taken by my former boss, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSenate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees GOP has always been aggressive in trying to weaponize the system of judicial nominations Republicans come full circle with Supreme Court battle to the end MORE (D-Nev.), in 2013 to stop filibusters on presidential appointments and lower court judges (even if I understood the reasons), precisely because of what may occur this Friday. You can’t un-ring that bell. 

And so, we find ourselves on the brink of a devastating change in the rules protecting minority rights and what will Senate Democrats have to show for it? Some say Republicans will get their just desserts when Democrats take power again. They may very well be right, but this thinking overlooks the fact it could be a long time before we are back at the helm. Winning back Congress in 2018 isn’t impossible, but at this point it is unrealistic. And, while the first 70 days of this administration certainly look like a dumpster fire, I’m no longer arrogant enough to believe our current president couldn’t win reelection. All this is to say that those who view the nuclear option as a pendulum decision are ignoring just how much damage a willing administration and Republican majority can inflict upon our courts and this country in four short years.

To assuage fears Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellJuan Williams: Trump’s policies on race are more important than his rhetoric It’s Mitch McConnell’s Washington – and we’re just living in it Trump makes new overtures to Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) has vowed he would never change filibuster rules on legislation, but if all we have is the word of a hyper partisan political leader then I wouldn’t hold my breath. It may only be a matter of time before pressure from House Republicans or outside conservative groups lead to the next inevitability. If you’re a Democrat who has ever been frightened at extreme legislation being voted out of the House of Representatives only to be comforted by the belief it would never pass the Senate, you may be in for a rude awakening. If you are a supporter of the labor movement, Friday’s action brings us that much closer to a national right to work law. And ironically, the nuclear option brings us one step closer to not even needing the court to decide the fate of reproductive rights.

Perhaps what irritates me the most is that Senate Democrats are taking a bold stand, but will likely get no credit for their actions. Among partisans the Gorsuch nomination is a top issue, but not so with everyday Americans who are consumed with the possible loss of their health care and the state of the economy. Add the daily drips of President Trump’s unsavory relationship with Russia and there has been relatively little attention paid to the Gorsuch nomination. While some progressive groups have stepped up to amplify the importance of this court seat, most voters are still unable able to pick Gorsuch out of a line up yet alone explain why he deserves to be filibustered.

I am not so naive to believe should Democrats back off a Gorsuch filibuster we won’t find ourselves in this exact situation when the next SCOTUS nomination comes down the pike. However, by delaying this fight Democrats would have time to come together and craft a cohesive strategy  - one that better communicates the importance of these lifetime nominations and bring to bare the resources, focus and intensity needed to make this a top tier issue in all Americans’ minds.

To be even more blunt, if Democrats are going to eventually lose the right to filibuster judicial nominees I would rather go out in a blaze of glory, with every American fully aware of the stand we have taken and the courage of our convictions, then the whimper we are setting ourselves up for –because the way this is playing out should the nuclear option be invoked on Friday, it will be old news by Monday.

I know many progressives will disagree with my point of view. They will say retreat is weakness and we must fight at all costs. But we aren’t fighting smart, and have set ourselves up for a loss with no clear strategy for what comes after. And I hate losing, more than I even wanna win, and there’s a difference.

Rodell Mollineau is a former Communications Director to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Staff Director of the Senate Democratic Communication Center.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.