Has Chuck Schumer thrown in the towel on Brett Kavanaugh? The Senate Minority Leader told the Washington Post that he still thinks that he can flip one or more Senate Republicans into opposing Donald Trump’s second nominee to the Supreme Court. However, Sean Sullivan reports that Schumer’s not trying hard to keep his own red-state Democrats from the aye column:
Although anger against Trump has reached a fever pitch in the Democratic Party and activists are clamoring for all-out war against Kavanaugh, Schumer has opted not to use hardball tactics to pressure moderates from Republican states to join the resistance.
The strategy reflects the pragmatic instincts of the 67-year-old Brooklyn politician, who 12 years ago helped sweep the party into power by recruiting and propelling several red-state Democrats to victory. But the decision also exposes him to a possible backlash from the liberal base if the Senate confirms Kavanaugh.
Schumer’s deputy Dick Durbin sounds fatalistic:
“He’s always mindful of not only the Democratic caucus position, but the impact it has on individual members. And of course, the highest priority are those that are up for reelection in tough states,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), Schumer’s top deputy.
That certainly sounds as though Schumer and Durbin have heard some rumblings from their red-state colleagues. Their highest calling in this cycle is survival, not a suicidal opposition to an obviously qualified candidate that will end up being futile anyway. When asked by Sullivan how much influence Schumer will have on her confirmation vote, for instance, Heidi Heitkamp issued a terse answer: “None.”
This gets framed as Schumer playing a “long game,” but what it looks like is the failure of Schumer to win a short game against Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley. Schumer has been whipping outrage, if not votes, ever since the announcement of Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. When Kavanaugh was picked, Schumer began making ridiculous document demands as a means to obstruct the process, pledging to “oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have” less than three weeks ago.
That backfired spectacularly; Grassley politely told him that his knee-jerk opposition made his document demands pointless, if not malicious. McConnell threatened to hold the vote immediately before the midterms to tie up vulnerable Democratic incumbents in Washington if Schumer kept trying to stall. Small wonder his red-state colleagues have grown tired of the hysteria whipped up by Schumer; Joe Manchin lost patience this week, calling out his colleagues for their “extremely disrespectful” refusal to meet with Kavanaugh, including Schumer.
If Schumer’s new strategy “reflects [his] pragmatic instincts,” it’s only because Schumer’s obstructionist instincts blew up in his face. Not only has he likely alienated Senate Republicans who might have been a little skeptical of Kavanaugh, he’s practically forced his own most vulnerable colleagues into a position where they have to show their independence from Schumer’s hardline ideological opposition.
There is no long game here. Schumer and Durbin are about to get hoist by their own kill-the-filibuster petard a second time, and there’s nothing he can do about it — except minimize his losses.