“All Chuck ever says in caucus [meetings], it’s pretty well known: ‘Keep your powder dry. Don’t commit. Stay as neutral as you can, as long as you can,’” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “It gives him some room to maneuver.”

Manchin is meeting with Kavanaugh on Monday afternoon, the first test of whether he can hold his poker face deep into the summer. And if the moderate West Virginia Democrat and his centrist colleagues can remain on the fence for several more weeks, it boosts Schumer’s long odds of beating the nomination.

Schumer’s strategy starts like this: Hold his caucus in line and force Republicans to cough up 50 votes on their own.

While his red-state members stall in the face of attacks from their GOP challengers, Schumer hopes to place massive pressure on moderate Republicans by raising damaging questions about Kavanaugh’s views on abortion, health care and presidential power. His top GOP targets are Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Libertarian-leaning Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky is also publicly wavering.