Senate Democrats have expressed frustration that the complex political dynamics surrounding Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court have left the Democratic caucus in flux, as the Trump administration appears poised to install a Scalia-ite conservative on the high court for a generation.
The vexing political calculus concerns seven Democrats standing for reelection next year in states President Donald Trump carried in the 2016 general election. These lawmakers find themselves caught between a furious new class of left-wing activists and organizers, still reeling from Trump’s victory, and a midterm electorate in their home states likely to favor Republicans.
As such, many lawmakers have adopted an ambiguous posture as regards the nomination, promising to withhold judgement on Gorsuch until hearings begin before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. But that choice may have blunted the caucus’s chances of developing a message and strategy for derailing the confirmation process. One Democratic senator privately lamented to Politico that “there is no caucus strategy” whatsoever.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin conceded as much, telling reporters that the Democratic caucus has not even adopted an official position with regard to Gorsuch’s confirmation.
“The only thing we’ve decided as a caucus is to ask members not to make any public commitments until the hearing phase is finished,” he said.
Durbin’s comments underscore the aimlessness of Senate Democrats as regards the nomination, since his colleagues have openly contradicted that position. Nine of his colleagues as of Feb. 8 including Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Chris Coons, Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Jon Tester, Joe Donnelly, Claire McCaskill, and Jeanne Shaheen, have publicly committed to a hearing and a floor vote for Gorsuch, almost ensuring that he will pass the 60-vote threshold needed to avoid a filibuster. Another small coalition of Democrats, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Ron Wyden, and Jeff Merkley, vowed to filibuster the nomination just moments after it was announced.
As the confirmation hearings draw near, Democratic leadership appears to have settled on messaging around the nomination. They plan to paint Gorsuch as a callous, pro-corporate jurist who consistently aligns himself with powerful constituencies.
“Obviously, the social issues are always looming out there with any justice,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “But where [Gorsuch is] particularly vulnerable is in this anti-worker, pro-corporate record.”
Sen. Patty Murray, the chamber’s number-three Democrat, echoed those sentiments.
“You can find example after example of Judge Gorsuch siding against workers even in the most dire circumstances,” she said.
Schumer’s office, and other Democratic senators, held events in this vein on Capitol Hill this week. Congressional Democrats gave several of Gorsuch’s campaign finance decisions a thorough going-over during on event on Tuesday, while Schumer hosted several individuals adversely affected by Gorsuch’s rulings on Wednesday.
Still, left-wing political groups are broadly dissatisfied with Senate Democrats, who they say have failed to capitalize upon an energized progressive base eager to stop Gorsuch’s appointment.
“Democrats have failed to demonstrate a strong, unified resistance to this nominee despite the fact that he is an ultra-conservative jurist who will undermine our basic freedoms and threaten the independence of the federal judiciary,” NARAL Pro-Choice America, one of the nation’s largest pro-abortion lobbies, wrote in letter to Senate Democrats. “We need you to do better.”
The letter was cosigned by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Communications Workers of America, MoveOn.org, and the Working Families Party.
Gorsuch will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee for several days beginning Monday, March 20.
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