Left fed up with Schumer’s Supreme Court playbook

Greg Nash

The left’s anger with Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) is boiling over.

Activists are fuming as Democrats remain publicly fractured on opposing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and they blame the New York Democrat who they worry is more focused on the November midterm elections.

Frustrations have been simmering for weeks but are now spilling out into the open as Kavanaugh faces days of intense questioning by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.


Thirteen outside groups panned Schumer’s Supreme Court strategy, warning that they believe he is “failing.”

“The Democratic Party’s progressive base expects nothing less than all-out resistance to Trump’s dangerous agenda,” the groups wrote in a Wednesday letter to Schumer. “They know that anything less than 49 Democratic votes against Kavanaugh would be a massive failure of your leadership.”

Republicans hold 51 seats, meaning Democrats can’t block Kavanaugh on their own. But Schumer is nevertheless under intense pressure from progressives to run a full-scale war against Trump’s nominee, with outside groups saying that anything less would normalize an administration that has been plagued by legal scandals.

Neil Sroka — a spokesman for Democracy for America, which signed the letter — said Democrats have spent months playing “patty-cake” with Kavanaugh’s nomination, and outside groups are questioning “what the hell Chuck Schumer thinks he’s doing.”

“The Democrats that are going to be essential to winning this election in the fall are positively apoplectic about the incompetent leadership we’re seeing from Chuck Schumer in the fight against Kavanaugh,” Sroka said.

Schumer’s office declined to comment on the letter. 

Another outside group, Credo Action, has a mobile billboard circling Capitol Hill during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings this week, telling Schumer to “do your job” alongside the hashtag “WTFChuck.”

Schumer is having to juggle competing factions in the party.

Several Democratic senators are considered potential White House contenders, and playing hardball with Senate Republicans could help fire up the party’s base. But that would likely harm vulnerable red- and purple-state incumbents running for reelection in November in states that Trump won in 2016.

Republicans have seized on the intraparty fight over Kavanaugh, relishing Democrats’ battle amongst themselves.

Katie Martin, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said “ambition-obsessed senators,” referring to potential 2020 contenders, are “throwing red-state Democrats under the bus.”

Progressives have called on Schumer to try to strong-arm, publicly or privately, red-state Democrats into opposing Kavanaugh with tactics such as threatening to strip them of committee or leadership posts.

Three Democratic senators — Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) — voted for Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee.

Progressive activists worry that Schumer has made the calculation, which they argue is incorrect, that he needs to let red-state Democrats potentially vote “yes” in an effort to boost their reelection bids.

“It’s hard to deny that that’s just not his strategy,” said Heidi Hess, a co-director of Credo Action. “He’s been prioritizing the seats over the values.”

Sroka added that “the argument that their voting for Kavanaugh will somehow help them in their reelection is absolute horse shit.”

But some Senate Democrats argue that it isn’t Schumer’s style to try to pressure members, and that calls for him to punish his own caucus are unrealistic.

“The Senate doesn’t work that way, and the groups that are asking for it are not in touch with reality,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told The Hill.

Asked about the effort to get vulnerable incumbents to stay on the fence, he added: “We’re trying to. So far they’ve been very helpful in that way.”

Durbin also defended Schumer against criticism from the left, saying that Democrats are fighting an “uphill battle” on Kavanaugh. To defeat the nominee they need to win over at least two Republican senators while keeping their politically diverse caucus united.

“It’s not an easy task,” Durbin said about Schumer’s leadership. “So I think the criticism … is unfair.”

Democrats have stepped up their tactics this week, and Schumer has been in the middle of those discussions.

Judiciary Committee Democrats on Tuesday earned praise from some of their progressive critics for repeatedly interrupting and sparring with Republicans during what was expected to be a low-key day of opening statements.

Schumer held a call with Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee over the Labor Day weekend “to coordinate hearing strategy,” a source familiar told The Hill.

And on Wednesday Democrats forced the Senate to adjourn early by rejecting a normally routine request that allows committees to meet after the chamber has been in session for two hours.

“The Republican majority is deliberately obstructing the Senate’s constitutional duty to fairly and thoroughly conduct our advise and consent powers,” Schumer said, adding that Democrats wouldn’t accept “business as usual.”

But those moves stopped short of the tactics being demanded from the left.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), are facing pressure to release documents labeled “committee confidential,” meaning they can’t be made public or discussed in a public setting.

“Democratic senators must put an end to this secretive sham,” Demand Justice, MoveOn and NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a joint statement. “They know that nothing in the Senate Standing Rules or Judiciary Committee Rules grants Grassley sole authority to designate documents ‘Committee Confidential’ or prohibit their public release.”

The groups want Democrats to read the documents aloud into the Senate’s record. No senator has yet signaled they would be willing to do so. 

Senate Democrats are also pushing back on calls that they boycott Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.

Asked about calls for Democrats to walk out, Schumer said that the “overwhelming consensus” among Judiciary Committee members was to attend the hearing.

We need to “make sure that we showed this was not regular order given the documents that we were being denied, given the treatment that our Republican colleagues were giving not only to us but the American people,” Schumer told reporters.

He added that Democrats “came to the conclusion that the best thing to do is be in the room and ask repeatedly about those documents, trying to get the hearing delayed or postponed at the very beginning, and I think it worked out very well.”

Durbin added that boycotting the hearing would have backfired.

“It would have been a brief one-day hearing yesterday, and Judge Kavanaugh would have been reported out,” he told The Hill. “There would have been no questions asked and no effort to highlight our differences.”

Progressives acknowledged that efforts by Democrats to disrupt the hearing were a positive step but separate from their chief complaint with Schumer.

“We remain concerned that Sen. Schumer is not doing enough to unify his caucus in opposition to Kavanaugh,” said Josh Nelson, a co-director of Credo Action.

He predicted that Schumer would continue to face pressure “to step up and lead until every single Senate Democrat has made clear that they will vote to block Kavanaugh from being confirmed.”

Tags Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing Charles Schumer Chuck Grassley Chuck Schumer Dick Durbin Heidi Heitkamp Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin

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