Several prominent progressive organizations are demanding that the Democratic Party’s senators do whatever they can to block Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court. On Tuesday night, Trump picked Neil Gorsuch, 49, to fill the seat.
“As long as the president is in flagrant disregard for the basic underpinnings of our republic, it is no time to consider a Supreme Court nominee,” said Ben Wikler, the Washington director of MoveOn.org, in an interview. “The next election is a while away, but what Senate Democrats do here and over the next few months will be seared into the memory of every Democratic voter.”
The core of the progressive groups’ argument is that Senate Democrats have dramatically underestimated the scale and depth of their voters’ anger toward Trump’s administration. (Only one Senate Democrat, Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, has announced that he’ll filibuster Trump’s nominee.)
Dozens of Senate Democrats have cast votes for several controversial Trump nominees, including Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. That may be well within the norm for the Senate, and it is largely in line with how Senate Republicans treated President Obama’s nominees. But organizers at MoveOn.org and Democracy for America argued that the Democratic Senate caucus needs to match the outrage of the progressive base by using every tool at its disposal to fight Trump — including opposing whomever the president names to the high bench.
“We want to see our leaders in Congress standing up as strongly to the Trump administration as we are in the streets and in airports across the country,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America. “Anything less than a complete and utter rejection of Trump’s Cabinet appointees and of their Supreme Court appointees is absolutely unacceptable.”
Senate Democrats are split over how to treat Trump’s Cabinet
Right now, Senate Democrats are splintered over how hard they want to fight Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court.
On the one side is the progressive Merkley, who has vowed to filibuster anyone who isn’t Merrick Garland. (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to schedule a hearing for Garland, President Obama’s choice for the bench.)
But so far Merkley is alone among Senate Democrats. On Monday, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey said he wasn’t sure if he would want to filibuster Trump’s pick. And Delaware Sen. Chris Coons told CNN last night that he would be pushing for a hearing and a vote on Trump’s Supreme Court choice, adding, “I'm not going to do to President Trump's nominee what the Republicans in the Senate did to President Obama's.”
Other Senate Democrats agree that the party shouldn’t fight fire with fire. “The Republicans took the unprecedented move to refuse to hold hearings for the nominee. But I don’t think Democrats as a whole are going to do that,” New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said in an interview.
The Democratic senators may see filling the empty Supreme Court seat as the more principled course of action. And they’ve also argued that fighting Trump’s nominee will just lead McConnell to change the filibuster rules so he only needs 51 votes to pass the Supreme Court nominee. According to CNN, some Democrats privately fear that doing so would also give Trump an easier time in appointing a very conservative justice should a second Court seat open up during his administration.
This was an argument the progressive groups dismissed out of hand — “that’s loser thinking,” Wikler said.
“Not fighting the fight is losing before it even begins,” he continued. “And it’s not a sure thing that McConnell will break with his institutionalist principles and vote to strip one of the protections of the minority political party in the Senate.”
The disconnect between the progressive base and the Democratic Senate
Over the weekend, more than 1,000 people showed up at a town hall hosted by Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. There, activists grilled Whitehouse over his vote for Trump-appointed CIA Director Mike Pompeo,
“That was just the start,” says Murshed Zaheed, head of the progressive group CREDO.
Zaheed argued that the millions of demonstrators who had taken to the streets over the past few weeks would “look for new leaders if Democrats in the Senate cannot match their energy.”
“If any of them vote for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, we're going to mark them down as collaborators,” he said. “If Chuck Schumer wants to maintain any credibility as a progressive leader, he needs to shut the Supreme Court seat down. And if he doesn’t do it, there will be a massive revolt.”
All three progressive organizers didn’t just say that the Court pick should be opposed on the merits. Instead, they talked about America as being in a unique moment of crisis, and called on the Democratic senators to stall the Court pick until Trump took unrelated actions, like ending the restrictions on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries.
“The Democratic base right now is reading the news and watching the country slide away from democracy. Senate Democrats have just a few places of leverage to push back against that — and this may be one of them,” said Chamberlain, of Democracy for America.
The key over the next week will be to close the gap between the sense of panic in the progressive grassroots and that felt by members of Congress on Capitol Hill, Chamberlain said.
“There’s this palpable, raw energy that Senate Democrats keep running into — when their staffers pick up the phone, or when they go to visit their home districts,” Wikler said. “But it’s hard to wrap your mind around when you’re sitting in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.”