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 TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report 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 SchumerSchumer slams Justice Dept over 'pre-damage control' on Mueller report Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders welcomes fight with Trump over 'Medicare for all' | DOJ attorney in ObamaCare case leaving | NYC mayor defends vaccination mandate | Ohio gov signs 'heartbeat' abortion bill Dems see room for Abrams in crowded presidential field 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 DurbinCongress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal Overnight Defense: Transgender troops rally as ban nears | Trump may call more troops to border | National Guard expects 3M training shortfall from border deployment | Pentagon to find housing for 5,000 migrant children 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 FeinsteinOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks 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) Tester20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology 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 GarlandMcConnell touts Trump support, Supreme Court fights in reelection video Hatch warns 'dangerous' idea of court packing could hurt religious liberty Juan Williams: McConnell's hypocrisy on the courts 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) ManchinOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections 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 HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySome in GOP fear Buttigieg run for governor Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care 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 CollinsOvernight Energy: Collins receives more donations from Texas oil, gas industry than from Maine residents | Interior chief left meetings off schedule | Omar controversy jeopardizes Ocasio-Cortez trip to coal mine Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Collins receives more donations from Texas fossil fuel industry than from Maine residents MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiCain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed License to discriminate: Religious exemption laws are trampling rights in rural America On The Money — Presented by Job Creators Network — Cain expected to withdraw from Fed consideration, report says | Dem bill directs IRS to create free online filing service | Trump considered Ivanka for World Bank 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 MurphyOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Long-shot goal of nixing Electoral College picks up steam MORE (D-Conn.) said, “I think they want us to mount a national campaign to try to convince Republicans to vote against this guy.”