Senate

Dems launch attacks ahead of Supreme Court showdown

Victoria Sarno Jordan

Senate Democrats are taking their opening shots at President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, ahead of a confirmation battle set to begin next week.

Democrats and outside groups are painting Gorsuch as anti-worker and questioning if he’ll be willing to stand up to the Trump administration.

{mosads}Up until now, the confirmation process for Gorsuch has largely been free of drama. The lack of fireworks has bolstered confidence among Republicans that he will ultimately be confirmed.

But Democratic lawmakers and their allies on the left are seeking to change that by turning up the pressure.

Winnie Stachelberg, the external affairs executive vice president for the Center for American Progress (CAP), said at an event with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) on Monday that CAP believes the Senate “should firmly reject” Gorsuch.

“The broad question presented by this nomination is: Will we allow the court to become a full-fledged promoter of pro-corporate, anti-consumer, anti-worker, anti-small-business, anti-middle-class agenda for decades?” she asked.

Democrats are focusing on that message as they gear up for next week’s fight.

Matt House, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Twitter Monday, “Judge Gorsuch has repeatedly sided with powerful interests and [Democrats] will hold him accountable for it.”

The spokesman confirmed that Schumer would hold a public press event on Wednesday with individuals that he says were negatively affected by Gorsuch’s decisions. The New York Times first reported the event.

Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the No. 3 Senate Democrat, as well as Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), each criticized Gorsuch last week as having an “anti-worker, pro-corporate record.”

“I am very concerned that, should he end up on the court, he would side with conservative justices in continuing to undermine workers’ protections, safety and ability to organize,” Murray said.

Democrats are also skeptical that Gorsuch would be transparent and willing to stand up to the Trump administration.

They argue that because Trump is more likely to push the boundaries of the law, the Senate should place extra weight on Gorsuch’s judicial independence.

Gorsuch stirred Democratic ire after he privately called Trump’s criticism of a judge that ruled against his temporary travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries “disheartening” but declined to speak out publicly.

“There are real questions about the kind of justice that Neil Gorsuch would be, and he needs to answer them openly and honestly, not with the kind of dodges and misrepresentations we have heard from other Trump nominees,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said on Monday.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent a letter to the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society asking them to hand over any documents related to helping the administration vet Trump’s list of nearly two dozen potential Supreme Court nominees.

Blumenthal was expected to hold a press conference on Tuesday raising “serious concerns” about Gorsuch’s “partisan background,” but the presser was canceled ahead of a snowstorm. The press conference could be rescheduled for later this week, a spokeswoman said.

The Supreme Court seat has been vacant since February 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia died. Republicans refused to give Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee, a hearing or a vote, arguing that the vacancy shouldn’t be filled during a presidential election year. 

Republicans want to hold a confirmation vote on Gorsuch by early April, before the Senate leaves for a two-week spring recess.

“If Senate leadership rushes through confirmation of Gorsuch in the next few weeks, after holding the position open for more than a year, it will cast the same shadow of illegitimacy that now lies over the White House over the Supreme Court,” People for the American Way, a liberal outside group, said in a memo Monday.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and outside groups are also taking aim at Gorsuch’s stance on campaign finances — a key issue for progressives who want the Supreme Court to overturn the 2010 Citizens United case that removed limits on what corporations can donate to political action committees.

Outside groups Every Voice, Demos and the NAACP are expected to give Whitehouse a letter from more than 100 organizations, including labor unions and watchdog groups, that asks senators to “scrutinize thoroughly Gorsuch’s record and views on money in politics,” according to Whitehouse’s office.

Meanwhile, red-state Democrats up for reelection in 2018 are under a mountain of pressure from both the left and right.

Some of the liberal groups opposing Gorsuch have threatened to mount primary challenges in 2018 against Democrats who vote for him.

Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) walked a fine line during a town hall over the weekend, saying he had “concerns” about Gorsuch but that he wouldn’t announce his vote until after the confirmation hearings.

“I have substantial, real, significant, major concerns,” he said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Republicans are expected to concentrate on Democrats such as Casey, who are up for reelection in states carried by Trump, as they look to poach support for Gorsuch.

They will need the support of at least eight Democrats to clear the nominee through the Senate without going “nuclear,” a historic step that would lower the threshold for confirming Supreme Court nominees from 60 votes to a simple majority.

Republicans and their allies are brushing off the growing attacks from Senate Democrats as desperation.

“In general the Democrats have had a really hard time coming up with a consistent angle. They’re throwing spaghetti at the wall, and this is more of the same,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised Gorsuch on Monday, noting that the American Bar Association gave the circuit judge its highest rating.

“The endorsements for Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch keep rolling in across the political spectrum,” he said. “We should give him the fair consideration, debate and up-or-down vote that he deserves.”

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bob Casey Charles Schumer Ed Markey Jeff Merkley Mitch McConnell Patrick Leahy Patty Murray Richard Blumenthal Sheldon Whitehouse
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