Democrats plan to seize on GOP opposition to Jackson

Democrats are launching a print, digital and television paid media campaign to highlight Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic confirmation to the Supreme Court.

The effort was planned well before Jackson on Thursday became the first Black woman confirmed to the court, and Democratic sources familiar with push say the ads will celebrate both Jackson and President Biden.

“You will see some media reminding voters that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris made this happen, that this is Joe Biden’s leadership,” said one strategist familiar with the planning. “You voted for Democrats and this is what happened.” 

The push comes amid deep pessimism about Democratic chances in this fall’s midterm elections, and the party is hoping the big win on Thursday can help move the needle for Biden. 

The president’s  approval ratings are stuck in the low 40s, and Democrats are worried about losing the House and Senate majorities amid high inflation — crystalized by the rising gas prices that have spiked further with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Democrats are hoping to rally a base that hasn’t had a lot to celebrate in terms of legislative victories, especially with his signature Build Back Better agenda stalled out in Congress.

Among Black voters in particular, Biden’s approval rating declined as Democrats failed to pass police reform and voting rights bills in the narrowly-controlled Senate. Some warned that pointed to an enthusiasm problem among a key piece of the Democratic base. 

Democrats are hoping Jackson’s nomination can be a turning point of sorts.

Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, who spoke to The Hill from his National Action Network convention in New York on Wednesday, said he’s already seen signs of excitement among Black Americans around Jackson’s nomination. 

“Every time it was mentioned today by many of the speakers there was broad applause,” Sharpton said. “What has escalated even the normal political capital is the nasty and rude way the Republicans questioned her.”

Jackson faced a collection of GOP attacks on her record during her confirmation process, including lines of questioning about her sentencing in child pornography cases and critical race theory from Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), respectively, that Democrats regarded as unfair. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared earlier this week that Jackson wouldn’t have gotten a hearing if the GOP controlled the Senate and that they would have forced Biden to choose someone “more moderate.” 

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (S.C) said in an interview on Thursday that Democrats need to make the way Republicans on the Judiciary committee treated Jackson part of their argument in the coming months, conveying the message that the GOP is not the party of Lincoln. 

“Would Lincoln have treated her that way?” Clyburn said. “You’ve got to remind people what Democrats are about. Democrats are about making this country’s greatness accessible and affordable for all its people.

“Democrats produced the first black president. Democrats produced the first black vice president. Democrats put the first black woman on the Supreme Court,” he added. 

Democratic strategist Karen Finney and others pointed to a recent town hall held by Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, where a Republican constituent said the way Jackson was treated was “appalling.” 

“I think Republicans know that and they’re scared of it,” Finney said, adding “Those images are seared in our minds of the disrespect she faced. Those are soul wounds for so many of us.” 

The party’s operatives say while Jackson’s confirmation will not necessarily be a top messaging priority, Democrats intend to remind voters about how she was treated.

“I wouldn’t say that this is going to be a center stage thing,” said one Democratic aide. “It’s an example of Joe Biden delivering on a promise that he’s made to the people who put him in the White House.”

Still, Jermaine House, senior director of communications at HIT Strategies, said that focus groups the firm conducted showed that Black voters “really wanted Democrats to support and defend” Jackson.

House noted that GOP attacks on Jackson, which he described as racist, seemed to break through in the media more than Democratic efforts to support her.

“We do think that there needs to be some improvement on that front,” he said. “We think there is still an opportunity for Democrats there.”

The celebrations surrounding Jackson’s confirmation begin in earnest this week. 

On Friday, Biden, Vice President Harris and Jackson will deliver remarks on the South Lawn of the White House.

She Will Rise, an initiative advocating for a Black woman on the Supreme Court, is organizing an event with little girls outside the Supreme Court on Friday evening. Several groups are also hosting a mural unveiling and a block party in partnership with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) in the nation’s capital on Saturday.

Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist and director of Hunter College’s public policy program, argued that the confirmation would help energize Democratic voters in the short term but pointed to the challenge of keeping up that momentum all the way to November. 

He said the White House and Democrats should dispatch Vice President Harris and other prominent Black female leaders, like Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, to talk to voters about the significance of the moment. 

“It only works if you can elevate and promote the voices of other strong African American women on the campaign trail,” Smikle said. 

Jackson’s ascension to the Supreme Court will be a major part of Biden’s legacy no matter what happens, and the White House was quick to point out that it fulfills a key promise that Biden made on the campaign trail. 

Clyburn, who pushed the Obama White House to nominate a Black woman for the Supreme Court in 2016 instead of Merrick Garland, said these moments can have huge impacts on voter turnout. 

Looking back, he contended that it would have led to a different outcome in the 2016 presidential election. 

“I’ll always believe that if this had been done when Garland’s name went up that Hillary Clinton would have been president All you’ve got to do is look at voter turnout.  Look at Hillary Clinton’s turnout,” Clyburn said. “I just think the black vote would have been much more incentivized in Michigan, for instance, and other places, that I think would have made a huge difference.

“It would have given her a much better message to run on,” he said.

Julia Manchester contributed reporting.

Tags Al Sharpton Joe Biden Ketanji Brown Jackson Supreme Court

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