Chuck Schumer Is Already Bucking Demands to Fight for a Progressive Supreme Court

The Right Wing

Well, it didn't take long for Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to hew to the center on the Supreme Court battle. As the New York Times reported over the weekend:

At a strategy session held over lunch last week, Senate Democrats settled on a careful strategy for the coming Supreme Court confirmation battle. They would drop their demands that Republicans not appoint a replacement for Mr. Kennedy until after the midterm elections, senators decided, and instead would highlight the threat to abortion rights and health care to try to mobilize opposition to Mr. Trump’s appointment.

“I’m sure many of them believe we have the power to stop this,” Sen. Dick Durbin told the Times of the progressive base. “But the grim reality is that we have some power but not the power to stop this.”

Good god—how about at least being in the fight? Anyone remember the GOP's "careful strategy" immediately following Barack Obama’s decisive 7-point win in 2008, more than doubling John McCain's electoral votes?

"If you act like you're the minority, you're going to stay in the minority," said Kevin McCarthy, quoted by Draper. "We've gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign."

McConnell, with just 40 seats in the Senate at the outset of 2009, was a chief proponent of that strict obstructionist posture. And over the course of three subsequent election cycles, he obstructed himself right into the majority, with 54 seats entering the 114th Congress in 2015. And it was that majority that gave him the power to deny any consideration of President Obama's nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia for nearly a full year.

But now Democrats, under Schumer's leadership, have quickly ceded their no-holds-barred demand that, after stealing a Democratic seat on the high court, McConnell abide by his own rule and let the voters decide in an election year. Last week, Sen. Durbin had been among the first of Senate Democrats to charge that McConnell must give "the American people their say in the upcoming election" before filling the vacancy left by Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement.

In lieu of that demand, we now have Schumer's New York Times op-ed pressuring so-called moderate Republicans to save America from a Trump nominee who will certainly threaten to "overturn a woman’s freedom to choose or gut protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions."

"The Republican majority in the Senate is razor-thin," Schumer writes. "One or two votes in the Senate will make the difference between the confirmation and rejection of an ideological nominee."

In other words, hey, don't look at us. Moderate Republicans—if they really even exist—are the only ones who can save us now. The reality is, Schumer is correct about needing to peel off at least one or two GOP votes to stop Trump's nomination from moving forward. That said, Schumer's strategy is one that predictably hews to the center entirely at the expense of mobilizing the Democratic base.

Where's the call to do everything possible to respect the will of the people? Where's the pledge to pull every procedural lever possible to shut down the Senate? While Democrats don't have the numbers to block Trump's nominee outright, they absolutely could gum up the works, create a spectacle, and prosecute their case in the court of public opinion while doing so. 

As former Harry Reid staffer Adam Jentleson said, they need to "Lock down 49 & fight like hell."

And by locking down 49, presumably Jentleson didn't mean allowing three red-state Senate Democrats to meet with Trump immediately following Kennedy's announcement. Because that's what happened. With 24 hours of the news, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota were in the West Wing breaking bread with Trump.

Why not just wave the white flag and get it over with?  

Those red state Democrats absolutely have to walk a line on Trump's nominee, but if Schumer had any intention of fighting like hell, he never would have allowed them to take a field trip to the White House as an opening salvo over this nomination fight. 

Let's be really clear here: If you're advocating for moderate Republicans to defect from the caucus and reject Trump's nominee, as Schumer is, you can't possibly make that case if Democrats are already demonstrating disunity on the issue. In other words, if Schumer can't at least signal he has the ability to hold his caucus together for that vote, then any appeal he's making to Republicans to join with Democrats in rejecting Trump's pick is laughable on its face.

Instead of putting forth an authentic and determined fight that will motivate the progressive base, Schumer already appears to be selling out the left in favor of centrism. Theoretically, he could do both—pour sand in the gears and woo GOP moderates—but all signs suggest Schumer has already turned red-state Democrats loose to do as they will.

The electoral map for Senate Democrats is tough to be sure, but if Congressional Democrats don't give their base something to vote for this fall, they can kiss potential takeovers of both the Senate and the House goodbye. Just listen to the sentiments of one woman who joined some 600 women last week at the Hart Senate Office Building to protest Trump's family separation policy.  

“I want to see this Congress actually follow our lead and resist in a real way,” said Winnie Wong, one of the organizers of the sit-in. “This kind of resistance can create a blockade and stop what will be a fast-track appointment. Imagine a world where you had the chamber do a civil disobedience, what that would that look like.”

That's exactly what McConnell did to stall Obama's health care bill throughout 2009, nearly killing it entirely except for the fact that then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi held her caucus together for a contentious vote in 2010 that ultimately delivered health care coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans. 

Former GOP Sen. Robert Bennett described McConnell's handiwork in a 2011 Atlantic article:

“The fact that Obama’s health-care bill did not pass by the dates he kept putting on it was not an accident,” Senator Bennett told me. “McConnell knew the places to go, around the tank, and loosen a lug bolt here, pour sand in a hydraulic receptacle there, and slow the whole thing down."

McConnell ultimately lost that war to Pelosi, but in the process he won a public relations battle over the bill that paid off for Republicans at the ballot box during successive elections.

We are now coming off a weekend that saw protesters flood more 700 marches across the country in opposition of Donald Trump's brutal family separation policy. We have an unpopularly elected pr*sident whose approvals are stuck at about 40 percent, with most of the other 60 percent vehemently opposing him and his policies. We have a Democratic caucus that, if it stayed together, might only need to peel off one vote to deny Trump's nominee before the midterm elections. And the best Chuck Schumer can do is appeal to voters to "tell your senators they should not vote for a candidate from Mr. Trump’s preordained list" in a New York Times op-ed.

Absolutely, make that call. And then when you're finished, consider contacting Sen. Schumer's office to tell him he needs to fight tooth and nail to block that nominee if he wants to truly lead the Democratic caucus. 

Schumer, Charles E.

(202) 224-6542


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