Can Chuck Schumer keep 49 Democrats opposed to Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee regardless of who it is? That’s the mission liberal groups have given the man who helped put them in position for irrelevance in the next few weeks. Activists believe that they can more successfully target two Senate Republicans if no Democrats cross over to vote for confirmation, but that’s getting the issue backwards:
Under particular pressure to side with the president are the three red-state Democrats who voted for Justice Neil Gorsuch last year and face difficult reelection campaigns: Sens. Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Donnelly.
Keeping them in the Democratic fold — in the face of withering pressure from a liberal base that expects nothing less — amounts to the biggest challenge of Schumer’s 18-month tenure as Democratic leader. The New Yorker has preferred to take a hands-off approach to his moderate members, rather than twisting arms on big votes. Yet it’s far from clear that will work this time.
“The message from grassroots groups is pretty clear: that if Democratic leadership can keep their caucus unified in doing no harm, we can aim our firepower on Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and bring full pressure to bear in their states,” Adam Green, co-founder of the activist Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in an interview.
Green added that any red-state Democrats who “start leaving the reservation and actively march in another direction” on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, “that by necessity will take energy away from pressuring Republicans.”
Interesting plan. There are only two flaws in it — Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer. Harry Reid broke Senate precedent in late 2013 by changing the rules mid-session on a majority-only vote to eliminate the filibuster on presidential nominations with the Supreme Court as the only exception. When Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to replace Antonin Scalia, these same liberal groups baited Schumer into filibustering him, prompting Mitch McConnell to return the favor and change the rules to remove the filibuster on all presidential appointments.
Had Schumer allowed an up-or-down vote at that time on Gorsuch, it’s almost certain that McConnell would lack the votes now to make that rule change, especially to fill Anthony Kennedy’s seat rather than Antonin Scalia’s. McConnell has effectively 50 votes, a bare majority, not the 52 he had in the beginning of the Trump presidency. It’s unlikely that Jeff Flake, for instance, would have voted for the rule change now, let alone Collins and Murkowski.
Now these activist groups essentially want to try the hair of the dog that bit them, but what’s the point? Trump’s nominee hasn’t even been selected yet, and his or her success will rise and fall on Republican unity, not Democratic unity, thanks in large part to their success in pressuring Schumer into his foolish strategy sixteen months ago. Even if Schumer holds all 49 Democrats, the nominee can still win confirmation with 50 Republicans.
This strategy doesn’t have zero downside either. Democrats need to hold as many of those red-state seats as they can in the midterms, lest the next Supreme Court nomination be decided by 55 or 56 Republicans instead of 50. This strategy basically burns down any chance of Schumer limiting his losses by demanding no votes from colleagues representing states Trump easily won ahead of knowing who the nominee is. It’s precisely the kind of knee-jerk loyalty test to the Left that Republican challengers in those states will highlight to tell voters that they’re really voting for Schumer and Nancy Pelosi if they re-elect people like Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill. That will have an impact not just on Senate races but on House races as well.
Far be it from me to point out to political opponents the ways in which they are shooting themselves in the foot, but this is the worst possible approach to take for a seat that still won’t shift the balance of the court more than nominally. Their radicalism and poisonous partisanship won’t do much to derail this nominee, but it sure might have something to do with greasing the skids for the next opening that might really matter to the Left.