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Progressives fume as Dems meet with Brett Kavanaugh

Progressives fume as Dems meet with Brett Kavanaugh
© Anna Moneymaker

Progressives say Senate Democrats aren’t doing enough to oppose Brett Kavanaugh, President TrumpDonald John TrumpCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Five takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation MORE’s second pick for the Supreme Court. 

Activists aligned with the party’s fervent base say they are frustrated that more than a month into the fight, Senate Democrats have failed to take a hard stance and unite against the 53-year-old judge. 

With only 49 members, the Senate Democratic Conference can’t block Trump’s pick on their own. But progressives want the caucus to launch a full-scale attack to try to sink or at least damage Kavanaugh, who, if confirmed, will help shape court decisions for decades.

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“I think there’s been broad concern that Democrats haven’t been as united and as crystal clear as they need to be,” said Neil Sroka, a spokesman for Democracy for America. “It’s pretty concerning that we haven’t gotten … unanimity from the caucus.”  


Elizabeth Beavers, policy director for the liberal Indivisible Project, added that they want Democrats to “come out swinging and to be in opposition. ... And on that front, we’ve been a little disappointed so far.” 

The simmering frustration comes as Kavanaugh is set to meet with Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma —Senate debates highlight fight over pre-existing conditions | Support grows for Utah Medicaid expansion measure | Arkansas health official defends work requirements Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump seizes on immigrant 'caravan' for midterms | WHCA criticizes Trump for praising lawmaker who assaulted reporter | Trump takes harder line on Saudis MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyConservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign Donnelly parodies 'Veep' in new campaign ad Election Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B MORE (Ind.) on Wednesday and Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma —Senate debates highlight fight over pre-existing conditions | Support grows for Utah Medicaid expansion measure | Arkansas health official defends work requirements McCaskill campaign says ‘intern’ who filmed campaign had access to voter data McConnell defends Trump-backed lawsuit against ObamaCare MORE (D-Mo.) next week. Kavanaugh has already met with Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinFive takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Blankenship endorses ex-W.Va. GOP Senate rival, calls him 'lying' drug lobbyist Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign MORE (D-W.Va.). 

All four are up for reelection in states Trump won handily in 2016. Heitkamp, Donnelly and Manchin backed Trump’s last pick for the court, Neil Gorsuch, but McCaskill opposed him.

Liberal activists are pressing Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (D-N.Y.) and other prominent members of the caucus to publicly and privately pressure the red-state Democrats to oppose Kavanaugh. 

“If they aren’t applying pressure, then they are opening up space for this nomination to be viewed as acceptable,” said Sroka. 

Shaunna Thomas, UltraViolet’s executive director, characterized Schumer’s apparent reluctance to force Democrats into line against Kavanaugh as “baffling” and “disgraceful.”

“I am very, very concerned that Schumer’s position is that it is more important ... to win an election than it is to reject a Trump Supreme Court nominee,” she said. 

She called it a “false choice” to think red-state Democrats must support Kavanaugh to appease voters at home. 

Other Democratic opponents of Kavanaugh’s nomination say it would be a strategic mistake for Schumer and other Democrats to publicly press red-state Democrats to block Trump’s nominee. 

“Schumer publicly threatening Manchin would have the result of Manchin announcing his support for Kavanaugh literally five minutes later,” Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Demand Justice who previously worked as an aide to Schumer, said over the weekend. 

Schumer has also put down the idea, telling The Washington Post in a recent interview that “punishment is not how this place works.”

Instead, Democrats have sought to build public pressure against Kavanaugh by highlighting what they say would be his negative influence on health care, abortion rights and special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation. 

They’ve also seized on a fight over documents to accuse Republicans of stonewalling information ahead of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. 

There are signs the on-the-fence senators are feeling pressure.

Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.), a red-state Democrat who wasn’t in office during last year’s fight over Gorsuch, was confronted on Tuesday when a woman threw stuffed lips at him and told him to “kiss my ass” if he voted for Kavanaugh. 

But activists say Schumer should go further, including by threatening members with the loss of committee positions or campaign money. 

Schumer isn’t the only Democrat taking direct fire from the left over Kavanaugh. 

California state Sen. Kevin De León, who is running against Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSen. Walter Huddleston was a reminder that immigration used to be a bipartisan issue GOP plays hardball in race to confirm Trump's court picks Feinstein would 'absolutely' reopen Kavanaugh investigation if Dems win Senate MORE (D-Calif.), says the top Judiciary Committee Democrat should be doing more to get her colleagues to oppose Kavanaugh. 

“It’s time for Senator Feinstein and Senator Schumer to stop playing polite, country-club politics with a Supreme Court nominee who represents one of the greatest threats to a woman’s right to choose in our lifetime,” he said in a fundraising email.

Activists say that in reality, their frustration is with the entire Senate Democratic caucus and not with its leadership. They say a slate of purple- and blue-state senators have remained on the fence despite being widely counted as “no” votes. 

And they worry that the longer those politically safer senators remain on the fence, the harder it will be to persuade red-state incumbents to oppose Kavanaugh. 

Progressives argue that the wait-and-see position is out of touch with the tactics needed to confront a Trump administration and GOP Senate that want to “jam” Kavanaugh onto the court and reshape the American judicial system for decades. 

They want Democrats to consider any procedural tools at their disposal to try to slow down Kavanaugh’s confirmation. 

“Senate Democrats need to be doing every single thing that they can to ring the alarm bells,” said Heidi Hess, the co-director of Credo Action. “I think that Democrats on the Senate Judiciary [Committee] should be thinking right now about how they are going to push and expose and if necessary gum up the works procedurally in order to slow down this down.”

Sroka, reflecting the frustration, said meetings with Kavanaugh were a “waste of time.” 

“I mean, the Republicans didn’t talk to Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandMajor overhauls needed to ensure a violent revolution remains fictional It’s Mitch McConnell’s Washington – and we’re just living in it Ending the judicial Wheel of Fortune: The need for 18-year Supreme Court terms MORE at all. I don’t why you would feign talking with Brett Kavanaugh,” he said. “Honestly, why waste our time, is my view.”