Â Associated Press
WASHINGTON - By themselves, Democrats canâ€™t stop the Republican-run Senate from confirming President Donald Trumpâ€™s pick for the Supreme Court. But theyâ€™re determined to make it agonizing for a pair of pivotal GOP senators to back the nominee.
Just a weekend from Trumpâ€™s big reveal on Monday, Democratsâ€™ early strategy is to cast the battle as either protecting the right to abortion and the 2010 health care law, or emasculating both. Citing Trumpâ€™s views on the issues, they say the latter is exactly what Trumpâ€™s selection would inevitably do.
The hope, widely viewed as a longshot, is to pressure GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine or Alaskaâ€™s Lisa Murkowski to vote â€śno.â€ť Neither faces re-election this year, but both are centrists whoâ€™ve backed abortion rights and helped block their partyâ€™s 2017 drive to repeal former President Barack Obamaâ€™s health care statute.
If either flips, the nomineeâ€™s fate will be in Democratsâ€™ hands. Republicans control the chamber 51-49, but Sen. John McCainâ€™s absence as he battles cancer has pared that edge to 50-49, making every GOP vote decisive.
The pressure on Collins and Murkowski is just starting. Demand Justice, a new group helping coordinate liberal opposition to the pick, has started airing ads in Maine and Alaska, part of $5 million it plans to spend nationally during the campaign.
â€śWhy wonâ€™t she rule out voting for Trumpâ€™s anti-choice picks?â€ť both spots ask.
A Republican defection would turn the tables and focus attention on three Democrats seeking re-election in states that gave Trump landslides in 2016: Indianaâ€™s Joe Donnelly, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and North Dakotan Heidi Heitkamp.
If Republicans have the votes to prevail, some Democrats looking ahead to Novemberâ€™s elections for congressional control want to give the three moderates room to stray if they so decide.
â€śThereâ€™s a reason we still have the ACA, OK?â€ť Jim Kessler, vice president of Third Way, the centrist Democratic group, said of Obamaâ€™s Affordable Care Act, which the Senate narrowly blocked Trump from dismantling last year. â€śAnd thatâ€™s because we have these senators.â€ť
But the three moderatesâ€™ decisions about voting would be far more fraught if the nomineeâ€™s fate is in the balance. Theyâ€™d face enormous pressure from the partyâ€™s liberal base and probably Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
â€śThen his job becomes exponentially harder,â€ť Patrick Griffin, a former top Democratic White House and Senate aide, said of Schumer. Griffin said at the point, Schumer would likely tell them, â€śI need you, because the argument would be defeat of the candidate is paramount.â€ť
Whatever happens, the fight offers both parties a chance to raise money and galvanize voters. Right now, it seems unlikely that Senate Republicans would sink a Trump nominee, due to the sky-high stakes and the countryâ€™s hyper-partisan political climate.