Jackson confirmation gives embattled Biden a much-needed win
President Biden, who has battled low poll numbers all year, scored a big and much-needed win on Capitol Hill Thursday when the Senate voted 53 to 47 to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve as the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.
Democratic lawmakers heading into a tough midterm election hope the victory will give Biden some political momentum, boost his sagging approval rating and energize their party base.
For months Democratic lawmakers have said that Biden could start solving some of his political problems by racking up more accomplishments in Congress.
On Thursday Biden scored one of the biggest wins of his presidency: Delivering on his campaign promise to put the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.
“If I had to think of an adjective to describe all of us it would be elated,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters after the vote.
“This has been a long, hard road as we try to get to greater equality, less bigotry in America. And there’s often steps backward but when you have a day like this it inspires you to keep moving forward,” he said.
Senate Democrats gave Jackson a standing ovation when Vice President Kamala Harris announced the final vote tally with a smile.
Biden watched it on television at the White House with Jackson by his side and immediately congratulated her.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the confirmation is something for voters to get excited about going into the midterm election.
“The polling that I’ve seen in Illinois suggests that our traditional base of support needs motivation. This will provide some motivation to many African-American voters who have been loyal to the party and expect us to produce and do things that are relevant. I think this is going to top the list,” he said.
“Together with the other judicial nominations, it’s certainly one of the highlights of this Congress,” he said.
Jackson’s confirmation comes after months of frustrating negotiations over the president’s highly touted Build Back Better agenda stalled out in December.
Many Democrats were also left deeply disappointed by the Senate’s inability to pass voting rights legislation or to change the upper chamber’s filibuster rule.
They believe Biden’s popularity is being weighed down by public frustration over the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, persistent inflation and partisan gridlock in Washington.
“We’re going through a really tough time in this country. People are understandably really unhappy and frustrated — all of us are. So a win at any point is a good thing,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
The president’s numbers started slumping after the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which Republicans jumped on to question Biden’s judgment.
He suffered another setback on Capitol Hill earlier this week when Republicans blocked a $10 billion COVID relief bill that was supposed to pay for therapeutics, tests and vaccines.
Biden is also contending with a succession of COVID variants that are creating fresh uncertainties over how much longer the pandemic will last.
And longtime Democratic priorities, such as immigration reform and gun control, have barely received any serious attention since Democrats took control of the White House and Senate in January of last year.
Democrats say Jackson’s confirmation is a big win for Biden on two fronts: It gives him a major bipartisan accomplishment to go along with the infrastructure bill he signed into law last year and it will help rev up Democratic voters going into November.
“It’s a huge accomplishment, it’s historic. It sends a message about getting things done,” said Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
“It’s a two-fer in the sense that it is a powerful energizer for people who already support him but it also appeals to independents,” he said.
Democrats say Jackson’s “grace under pressure” in responding to aggressive Republican questioning about her record sentencing child pornography offenders and her views of critical race theory showed that Biden picked a nominee with the right temperament.
If Jackson had lashed out in response to badgering questions and interruptions, it would have created a different political optic coming out of the hearing.
“She handled those really shameful attempts to drag her through the mud with such aplomb she elevated herself and it reflects on [Biden.] He made a good judgment,” Blumenthal said.
The success of Biden’s choice was underscored by its popularity with the Democratic Party’s liberal base and by the support of three prominent moderate Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
Murkowski on Thursday praised Jackson’s confirmation as “one that will help ensure that the face of the United States Supreme Court is more representative of the American people.”
“I think that is important,” she said.
Murkowski’s support offers an early indication of how Jackson’s confirmation is playing with moderate and independent voters, as the Alaska senator is running for re-election and facing a conservative primary challenger.
Romney supported Jackson after voting against her nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last year.
He said he became comfortable with her nomination after meeting with her in person and watching her performance at the hearing.
Collins was always expected to be a “yes” vote for Jackson, but Murkowski and Romney didn’t reveal their positions until Monday, when the Senate voted to discharge her nomination from the Judiciary Committee, which deadlocked 11-11 over her.
The votes of three Republicans is a nice feather in Biden’s cap after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) came out strongly against Jackson and urged his GOP colleagues at a recent lunch meeting to oppose her.
Democratic strategists see lifting Biden’s weak poll numbers as crucial to the success of their party’s candidates in Senate and House races this fall.
Incumbent Senate Democrats who lost their seats in 2014 — when Republicans captured the Senate majority — blamed then-President Obama’s unpopularity in their home states as a major factor that year.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), one of Republicans’ top targets in the midterms, on Thursday praised Jackson’s confirmation as a historic moment.
“The biggest victory today really is for the American people. We moved a little bit closer today to our ideal of a government of the people, all the people,” he said.
Durbin told reporters the bar for Jackson was set higher than for many past nominees because of the historic nature of her nomination as the first Black woman to serve on the court.
“She turned out to be a pillar of strength to show grace and dignity and really won over the hearts of the American people,” he said.
He noted that polling showed that Jackson’s popularity went up after a week of grilling before the Judiciary panel.