President Donald Trump’s nomination of appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court late Tuesday is the moment many Democrats and sympathetic activists have been eagerly awaiting for months: The chance to seek revenge for what they regard as a stolen seat.
It’s also the most crucial part of a broader Democratic leadership effort to delay and derail Trump administration initiatives and nominees. Democrats protested all over Capitol Hill on Tuesday. But whether they can keep the Senate’s 46 Democrats and two independents unified is another matter, since 10 Democrats are up for re-election in 2018 in states Trump won.
Party leaders, backed by an array of sympathetic interest groups, are on the march. Lawmakers and activists rallied at the Supreme Court on Monday night to protest Trump’s immigration order.
Tuesday, Senate Democrats boycotted a Senate Finance Committee meeting held to consider the nominations of Steven Mnuchin for treasury secretary and Tom Price for secretary of health and human services.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York has vowed he’ll try to delay nominations until Republicans work with him to overturn Trump’s immigration order. The Friday order barred the entry of all refugees for 120 days and the entry of noncitizens from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days.
Schumer and four other Democrats voted against Elaine Chao as transportation secretary, angry that she hadn’t answered their questions about airport chaos last weekend after Trump issued his immigration order.
“Advise and consent doesn’t mean ‘Ram the nominees through,’ ” Schumer said.
The big battle will involve the Supreme Court, and the mobilization was in full swing Tuesday even before Trump announced his nomination of Gorsuch.
Democrats have been steaming since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused last year to even hold a hearing for President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a highly regarded centrist. The Kentucky Republican is now demanding that Democrats allow the more conservative Gorsuch an up-or-down vote.
“When the Senate previously confirmed him to the appellate court, the bipartisan support in the Senate was so overwhelming, a roll call vote was not even required,” McConnell said Tuesday night. “I hope members of the Senate will again show him fair consideration and respect the result of the recent election with an up-or-down vote on his nomination, just like the Senate treated the four first-term nominees of Presidents Clinton and Obama.”
Eager for this fight are Schumer, the newly installed Senate Democratic leader, who is facing his first tests, and a savvy array of liberal groups that plan to apply intense pressure to anyone willing to work with Republicans to vet Trump’s Supreme Court pick.
“The senators are going to be hearing from hundreds of thousands and more asking them to oppose the Supreme Court nomination,” Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal watchdog group.
Alliance for Justice is among a coalition of organizations that were preparing to launch anti-nominee social media campaigns, Internet and broadcast ads, and a protest at the Supreme Court on Tuesday night as soon as Trump announced his nominee.
“Gorsuch should be filibustered, and every Democrat of conscience should vote against his confirmation,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said he’d do just that.
“This is the seat that Mitch McConnell and team have stolen from President Obama. I won’t be complicit in this theft,” Merkley said Monday as he circulated an online petition to stop Trump’s nominee.
Schumer wasn’t going that far late Tuesday, but he warned he had deep concerns about Gorsuch.
“Make no mistake, Senate Democrats will not simply allow but require an exhaustive, robust, and comprehensive debate on Judge Gorsuch’s fitness to be a Supreme Court Justice,” he said.
Other Democrats expressed concerns about Gorsuch but stopped short of opposing him immediately.
“I am troubled by the nomination of Judge Gorsuch and will fight to ensure the voice of the American people is heard in this process,” tweeted Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
Merkley would need 41 senators to maintain extended debate. Democrats control 48 of the Senate’s 100 seats.
The biggest variable is the Democrats from the Trump states, which include Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania. They need to be careful they’re not seen as obstructionists, not contributing to the sort of impasse voters hate.
“I will thoroughly review Judge Gorsuch’s record,” said Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, “particularly his appellate decisions and his answers to questions during the hearing and those submitted in writing afterward.”
Casey is up for re-election next year in a state Trump won.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is another. “I urge my colleagues to put partisan politics aside and allow the vetting process to proceed,” he said.
“They’re balancing the tension between the national Democratic Party that wants them to oppose Trump on everything and their electorates who voted for Trump and helped get him into the Oval Office,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections. “The Supreme Court is going to be one of the highest-profile decisions that the president will make.”