Give credit where due: the Democratic candidate for Senate in Tennessee makes a good argument here. Perhaps Phil Bredesen should explain this to his campaign staff first, though. Bredesen told reporters after a debate that neither party should treat the Supreme Court as a political prize, nor put their judgment ahead of the president’s when it comes to nominees. If elected, Bredesen insists, he’d vote to advance any candidate to a floor vote, as long as they passed a background check:
Democrat Phil Bredesen says he believes Senate Democratic leadership should not block a future Supreme Court nominee from a Republican president from going to the floor for a vote. Speaking to reporters Wednesday following a debate with his opponent in the U.S. Senate race, Republican Marsha Blackburn, Bredesen said “I would want to see any nominee by any president brought forward for a vote and consideration and the proper kind of background check.”
Bredesen also said the Senate should “reach beyond party with these nominations, as we did with Ginsburg, as we did with Scalia, both of whom got 95-plus votes.”
Current Senate rules require a simple majority to end debate and proceed to a floor vote on Supreme Court nominees. If Democrats took control of the Senate after the upcoming midterm elections, it would be the first time their party had a majority under the current rules with a president of the opposite party. Bredesen said Wednesday he thinks “the responsibility of a U.S. senator is to advise and consent not to substitute their judgment for that of the president of either party.”
Bredesen doesn’t think it’s likely to be an issue, however. He admitted to reporters that Democrats only have a “minuscule” chance of retaking the Senate. Those odds grew a lot longer after Bredesen’s polling collapse over the last week, and even longer when considering the resurgence of Republicans in Arizona and Nevada. Combine that up with troubles in New Jersey and the raft of red-state Democratic incumbents watching a surge of GOP voter enthusiasm, and they’ll be lucky to keep losses under five seats.
Even if Bredesen did get elected in Tennessee as part of a Democratic majority, though, the odds seem minuscule that he’d buck Chuck Schumer on a get-tough policy on Donald Trump’s nominee to replace, say, Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Stephen Breyer. Either of those seats would be “game over” for progressives if filled even with an establishment conservative in the Brett Kavanaugh mold, let alone someone whose “dogma lives loudly within” her like Amy Coney Barrett. Bredesen’s staffers certainly think that he’d transform from a flinty independent on the campaign trail to a “good Democrat” once ensconced in the US Senate. Bredesen would undoubtedly wind up (maybe with Joe Manchin) as the last votes on the progressive barricades protecting women from Trump. Think he’d buck that kind of pressure? Maybe, but not if his heart’s not in it, and even his own campaign staff seem convinced it’s not.
It’s unfortunate in one sense, though, because Bredesen’s right about the role of the Senate and the absurd imposition of an election as part of its confirmation process. It’s a symptom of the major constitutional dysfunction wrought by judicial activism over the decades, in which the Supreme Court and lower federal benches have arrogated policy-making authority from a Congress that has grown too averse to taking tough votes. The best way out of that conundrum is to appoint jurists with temperaments toward judicial modesty, referring policy issues back to Congress when appropriate. That would take much of the partisanship out of the confirmation process and return the advice and consent role to its proper mission.
Too bad we can’t trust Bredesen to act on this argument. Even his own campaign staff isn’t buying it. If Tennessee voters want to ensure that Trump nominees to the federal bench get a vote, their only choice will be to vote for Blackburn.
Update: Looks like Bredesen’s getting the worst of both worlds from his Kavanaugh endorsement:
Campaign volunteers have been calling to cancel door-knocking and phone-banking shifts for Bredesen since his statement backing Kavanaugh, according to an internal spreadsheet maintained by the campaign and obtained by POLITICO. At least 22 volunteers so far have reached out to express frustration with the decision, according to the spreadsheet. POLITICO spoke with five who contacted the campaign to vent their anger.
It’s a small fraction of Bredesen’s total volunteer force, which numbers in the thousands, according to his campaign. But it’s also just one slice of the frustration roiling Democrats since Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court last weekend.
“As a woman voter in Tennessee, I felt torpedoed by the statement,” said Rhonda McDowell, a campaign volunteer in Memphis.
It’s not a huge revolt, but in a campaign going as badly as Bredesen’s, it doesn’t take much either.