Court battle divides red-state Dems

Court battle divides red-state Dems
© Greg Nash

The fight over Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch is splitting Democrats who hail from states that President TrumpDonald TrumpMajority of Americans in new poll say it would be bad for the country if Trump ran in 2024 ,800 bottle of whiskey given to Pompeo by Japan is missing Liz Cheney says her father is 'deeply troubled' about the state of the Republican Party MORE won in November.

Democrats up for reelection in red and swing states face a choice: Support Gorsuch and enrage a resurgent liberal base, or oppose him and give fodder to the Republicans trying to unseat them in 2018.

Two of the Democrats facing tough races, Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cuomo defiant as Biden, Democrats urge resignation Biden's ATF nominee on shaky ground in Senate New hurdle slows trillion infrastructure bill MORE (Mont.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGiuliani to stump for Greitens in Missouri McCaskill shares new July 4 family tradition: Watching Capitol riot video Joe Manchin's secret MORE (Mo.), have sided with Democratic leadership and will filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination.

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Three others, Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampJoe Manchin's secret Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Effective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests MORE (N.D.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate rejects GOP effort to add Trump border wall to bipartisan infrastructure deal Youth organizations call on Biden to ensure 'bold' climate investments Democrats barrel toward August voting rights deadline MORE (W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySupreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Republicans fret over divisive candidates Everybody wants Joe Manchin MORE (Ind.), have gone a different way and are supporting Trump’s pick.

Jim Manley, who served for decades as a senior communicators adviser to former Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWhite House seeks to shield Biden from GOP attacks on crime issue Lobbying world Warner backing 'small carve-out' on filibuster for voting rights MORE (Nev.), downplayed the impact of pressure from outside groups. For each senator, the decision about whether to back Gorsuch is different, he said.

“They know their states better than anyone else, including the groups that are trying to pressure them on either side of the issue,” he said. “This is one of the votes where it’s left up to each and every single senator to decide what is best.”

But outside groups on both the right and left are warning senators that their vote on Gorsuch will have consequences in next year’s midterm elections.

A coalition of progressive groups went to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s (DSCC) office on Monday to deliver a petition calling for the Senate campaign arm to deny funding to incumbents who support Gorsuch.

Kurt Walters, the campaign director for Demand Progress, said, “Few things would undermine grassroots donors’ trust in the DSCC as much as sending [grassroots] money to fund senators who help put Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.”

Heidi Hess, the senior campaign manager for Credo Action, added that if the Democratic Party wants to represent a diverse group — including minorities and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — it will refuse to give financial help to Heitkamp, Manchin, Donnelly and “any other turncoat Democratic senator who collaborates with extremist Republicans to put Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.”

But there’s no sign that Democrats will agree to punish the incumbent senators, given that they represent the party’s best hopes of holding on to the seats in an election year when the Senate map is tiled firmly against them.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerYouth organizations call on Biden to ensure 'bold' climate investments New York Times calls on Cuomo to resign 'The Squad' celebrates Biden eviction moratorium MORE (D-N.Y.), while publicly opposing Gorsuch’s nomination, has acknowledged that the decision over the Supreme Court fight is up to each individual senator.

No Democratic senator has publicly acknowledged that the possibility of a primary challenger has influenced his or her vote on Gorsuch.

But McCaskill has publicly and privately fretted about the liberal grassroots turning against her.

“All of you who are [Sen.] Bernie [Sanders (I-Vt.)] supporters ... I need you. I want you. I want to talk to you. I want you to be part of our effort,” McCaskill said at a private event late last month, audio of which was leaked by the Missouri Republican Party.  

Specifically making a pitch to Sanders supports, she added that “we can’t get divided in a state like Missouri, or we’re cooked.”

Both McCaskill and Tester come from states that Trump won overwhelmingly; he took Missouri by approximately 18 points and Montana by nearly 20 points. 

Pressed about his decision to oppose Gorsuch, Tester over the weekend denied that his reelection race played a role.

“I think this decision is above politics,” he told reporters, according to The Associated Press. “It’s one of the most important decisions I will be making and, quite frankly, I base my decision based on the facts, not on any sort of political sway in either direction.”

In opposing Gorsuch, McCaskill and Tester are joined by five of their Democratic colleagues up for reelection next year in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan. Trump also won all of those states, but by narrow margins.

Manley said Democrats have been emboldened by the early failings of the GOP government, which has struggled to put accomplishments on the board.

“I think some of those Democrats are reassessing,” he said. “They’re not afraid of getting on the wrong side of Donald Trump tweetstorm.” 

The calculations are different for Manchin, Heitkamp and Donnelly, who come from states that are increasingly unfriendly to Democrats. Trump carried West Virginia by more than 40 points and North Dakota by nearly 36 points. 

Trump carried Donnelly’s home state by roughly 20 points, though former Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.), a Democrat recruited personally by Schumer, lost a comeback bid by roughly 10 points in the same election.

Donnelly is also considered more conservative than most Democrats. He ranks as the 56th most conservative senator, according to a ranking of the Senate by GovTrack, putting him ahead of Heitkamp and Manchin, who come in at 54th and 55th, respectively.

Manchin and Heitkamp are leading their caucus in voting for Trump’s nominees and were both considered for Cabinet positions in the Trump administration.

Manchin signaled before announcing his vote that he was inclined to support Gorsuch. He had previously brushed off threats from Sanders supporters to primary him.

Manchin, announcing his support for Gorsuch last week, said his colleagues have a “constitutional obligation to advice and consent.” 

“I hold no illusions that I will agree with every decision Judge Gorsuch may issue in the future,” he said. “But I have not found any reasons why this jurist should not be a Supreme Court justice.”