Manchin meeting key test for Democrats on Supreme Court

Manchin meeting key test for Democrats on Supreme Court
© Greg Nash

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage Former FBI official praises Barr for 'professional' press conference MORE (N.Y.) and Democratic-allied advocacy groups are using the lightest of touches on Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections MORE (D-W.Va.) as he considers voting for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Manchin will meet with Kavanaugh at 2:30 p.m. Monday and could embolden other Democrats to announce their support for President TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference MORE’s conservative nominee.

Manchin was one of only three Democrats that voted to confirm President Trump’s other Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, last April — along with Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySome in GOP fear Buttigieg run for governor Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care MORE (Ind.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward MORE (N.D.).

Democratic leaders are giving Manchin plenty of room to make a decision on Kavanaugh, even though his reelection is looking more and more like a sure thing.

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They say that trying to twist his arm is likely to backfire because it could look to voters like Manchin is acceding to colleagues from more liberal states instead of doing what he thinks is best for West Virginia.

Earlier this month, Manchin said Schumer can “kiss my you-know-what” if he tries to squeeze him.

Manchin will be the first Democrat to meet with Kavanaugh, bucking the rest of the Democratic conference, which otherwise decided to wait until Republicans turn over key documents from Kavanaugh’s service in the Bush White House. 

His decision appeared to pave the way for Donnelly, another Democrat running for reelection in a state Trump won by double digits, to announce that he too would meet with the nominee. He will sit down with Kavanaugh on Aug. 15.

This is frustrating to some liberal activists, however, who want the Senate leadership to threaten repercussions against any Democrat who strays in a battle that could shape the Supreme Court for years to come.

Heidi Heiss, the co-director of Credo Action, a progressive group, earlier this month said Schumer could punish Manchin if he votes for Kavanaugh by removing him from the Senate Democratic leadership team. 

Republicans effectively control only 50 seats because Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEarth Day founder's daughter: Most Republican leaders believe in climate change in private Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Democrats need a 'celebrity' candidate — and it's not Biden or Sanders MORE (Ariz.) is at home indefinitely fighting brain cancer. That means Democrats can block Kavanaugh if they keep their entire caucus unified and one Republican votes "no."

Manchin so far has come under heavy pressure from the right. 

West Virginia’s three Republican members of Congress and more than twenty state GOP officials signed a letter to Manchin urging him to back Kavanaugh.

The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative advocacy group, announced a new round of ads targeting Manchin, part of a $1.5 million ad buy. 

Manchin has a record of supporting some of Trump’s most controversial nominees. He voted to confirm Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Memo: Mueller's depictions will fuel Trump angst Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump Trump frustrated with aides who talked to Mueller MORE, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Flint residents can sue EPA over water crisis | Environmentalists see victory with Green New Deal blitz | March global temperatures were second hottest on record | EPA told to make final decision on controversial pesticide Court orders EPA to make final decision on banning controversial pesticide Former EPA chief Scott Pruitt registers as lobbyist in Indiana MORE and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonHUD drafting rule to require carbon monoxide detectors in public housing Treasury offers new guidance on opportunity zones HUD chief Carson leaves Dem lawmaker exasperated with answer on LGBT protections MORE.

He hasn’t faced much backlash after breaking ranks to announce that he would meet Monday with Kavanaugh, whom Democratic colleagues warn is likely to try to overturn the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade from the high court.

A group of 50 protesters gathered outside his Marion County office Friday to urge him to vote against Kavanaugh.

Demand Justice, a liberal-leaning group opposing the nominee, has announced a $5 million lobbying campaign targeting two key Republican moderates, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump GOP senator: 'No problem' with Mueller testifying MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiCain says he 'won't run away from criticism' in push for Fed seat Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed License to discriminate: Religious exemption laws are trampling rights in rural America MORE (Alaska), along with several centrist Democrats, including Manchin.

But the group isn’t laying into Manchin the way some more liberal activists want. It’s taking a measured tone.

“Sen. Manchin is leading the fight for protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and he has said this will be a top issue in analyzing Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination,” said Brian Fallon, the group’s executive director. 

“Kavanaugh has declined to uphold those protections in the past, and if he won’t commit to upholding them now, we’re hopeful that Sen. Manchin will vote against his nomination,” he said.

Another major Democratic group, Protect Our Care, which is dedicated to defending the Affordable Care Act, is only running ads against Collins and Murkowski.

A spokeswoman for the group, Amanda Harrington, said “a vote to confirm Kavanaugh is a vote to take away our health care.”

Protect Our Care announced Monday morning that constituents from West Virginia will meet with Manchin right after his session with Kavanaugh to discuss the threat his nomination poses to the Affordable Care Act. 

Manchin stood with Democrats last year to oppose Republican legislation to repeal ObamaCare and has repeatedly stressed the importance of protecting people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Meeting with constituents in Morgantown, W.Va., Friday, Manchin said “the biggest concern I have right now is the attack on health care,” according to The Dominion Post.

There’s a sense among some Democratic strategists that it would be tactically wise for Manchin and other red-state Democrats running in strongly pro-Trump states to vote for a Supreme Court nominee who’s likely to win confirmation anyway.

Collins and Murkowski have signaled they’re comfortable with what they know of the nominee, although they are still digging through his record.

Manchin, however, appears to be an increasingly safe bet for reelection.

A poll by Trafalgar Group, a Republican-leaning pollster, showed Manchin leading his opponent, Patrick Morrisey, by 10 points, 49.9 percent to 39.5 percent.

One Nation, a conservative advocacy group allied with Senate Republicans, recently announced it would cancel a major ad buy targeting Manchin.

However Nathan Brand, a spokesman for the Morrisey campaign, pointed Monday afternoon to a report that One Nation is returning to the air in West Virginia and plans to spend $2.4 million in August. 

The Trafalgar survey showed Manchin could increase his lead over Morrisey to 19 points if he backs Kavanaugh. 

“I vote more centrist than anybody in Washington,” he told constituents in Morgantown Friday, according to The Dominion Post.

Updated at 6:38 p.m.