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Red state Democrats will vote on Supreme Court pick to stay alive

Greg Nash

The morning after Election Day this November, Brett Kavanaugh will have probably been on the Supreme Court for one month. It is also possible, but far from certain, that Charles Schumer will be poised to be the next Senate majority leader. According to the latest polls, his odds are ebbing. Regardless, the career arcs of Kavanaugh and Schumer are now intertwined. If neither Lisa Murkowski nor Susan Collins break ranks with the president, the Kavanaugh confirmation ranks as a solid bet.

With a passel of incumbent Democratic senators from red states up for reelection, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana in real trouble, the prospect of a unified Democratic caucus against Kavanaugh looks dim. To put things into perspective, Donnelly, Heitkamp, and Joe Manchin each voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch.

{mosads}Still, these nominally undecided senators are doing their best to keep their options open, and refused to be used as presidential props. Donnelly, Heitkamp, Manchin, Collins, Murkowski, and Doug Jones of Alabama all declined invitations to attend the White House for the Kavanaugh announcement. Apparently, not everyone hankers to be on the set of “Celebrity Apprentice: Potomac Edition.”

Already, Manchin has publicly indicated that his take on Kavanaugh may hinge on his stance on ObamaCare. In a statement, Manchin reminded Kavanaugh of the expectations the rural and working class in his state. As the senator smartly framed things, “The Supreme Court will ultimately decide if nearly 800,000 West Virginians with preexisting conditions will lose their healthcare. This decision will directly impact almost 40 percent of my state, so I’m very interested in his position on protecting West Virginians with preexisting conditions.” It cannot be about abortion in a state that went for Donald Trump by 40 points.

As for the other swing votes, pureed word salad was the order of the day. Donnelly intoned that he will discharge his duty to the Constitution and “carefully review and consider the record and qualifications” of Kavanaugh. Donnelly and company will not be marching in lockstep with their fellow Democrats. The word is that the Kavanaugh nomination is the great battle of 2018, with Schumer warning that if Senate Democrats do not put up a “brutal fight” then there will be “hell to pay.”

Yet, it remains to be seen whether Schumer will attempt to extract maximum party loyalty, if the price paid is another two years of Mitch McConnell as majority leader. One thing is for sure, and that is the 2020 Democratic hopefuls will go all in to oppose Kavanaugh. Kamala Harris announced her intention to fight his nomination and refused to even speak to the White House about it, despite the fact that she sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and was asked for her input.

Likewise, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand, as expected, were right out of the blocks hammering Kavanaugh. Sanders got it right when he said that the debate this fall will be about the “future of Roe v. Wade, campaign finance reform, voting rights, worker rights, health care, climate change, environmental protection and gun safety.” Republicans might phrase it differently, but Sanders told the truth. It is about the culture wars.

All of this, however, is to be expected. Where things got interesting is with Steve Bullock, the Democratic governor of Montana and another possible 2020 candidate. Last night, he said in his deepest blue voice, “Our fundamental rights as Americans are at stake, from access to basic healthcare and a woman’s right to choose to voting rights, worker rights and marriage equality.” For the record, Bullock won reelection by five points, even amidst the 21 percent statewide blowout Trump had in 2016.

In the end, red state Democrats will likely be given the freedom to stay politically alive. Schumer wants to be Senate majority leader, and ranking members yearn to morph into committee chairs. For the moment, expect the vote on Kavanaugh to be no different from the one on Gorsuch.

Lloyd Green was the opposition research counsel to the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1988 and later served in the U.S. Department of Justice. He is now the managing member of research and analytics firm Ospreylytics.

Tags America Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Congress Constitution Cory Booker Democrats Donald Trump Election Elizabeth Warren Heidi Heitkamp Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin Kirsten Gillibrand Lisa Murkowski Mitch McConnell President Republicans Supreme Court Susan Collins White House

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