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 TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report 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 HeitkampHatch warns Senate 'in crisis' in farewell speech Dem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches House passes bipartisan bill aimed at reversing rising maternal mortality rates MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyHatch warns Senate 'in crisis' in farewell speech Dem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches Schumer gets ready to go on the offensive MORE (Ind.) on Wednesday and Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Year Ahead: Tech braces for new scrutiny from Washington McCaskill: 'Too many embarrassing uncles' in the Senate FEC votes to allow lawmakers to use campaign funds for personal cybersecurity MORE (D-Mo.) next week. Kavanaugh has already met with Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — New momentum for privacy legislation | YouTube purges spam videos | Apple plans B Austin campus | Iranian hackers targeted Treasury officials | FEC to let lawmakers use campaign funds for cyber Manchin puts hold on FCC nomination over wireless internet fund delay 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 SchumerRetired Gen. McChrystal: Sending troops to build wall could be seen as ‘misuse of power’ ‘It’s called transparency’ works for Trump on TV, not so much on campaign finance Trump, Pelosi, Schumer: No adult in the room 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 FeinsteinSenate Dems urge Trump to continue nuclear arms control negotiations after treaty suspension Senate Intel leaders ask judge not to jail former aide amid leak investigation Dems demand Pompeo brief Congress on whether he discussed Assange with Ecuadorian official 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 GarlandSupreme Court not for life? Beware perils to its independence Mellman: Enemies of democracy Debate over term limits for Supreme Court gains new life MORE at all. I don’t why you would feign talking with Brett Kavanaugh,” he said. “Honestly, why waste our time, is my view.”