Conservative groups are planning to spend millions on an unprecedented campaign to pressure Senate Democrats to confirm Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, according to sources familiar with the effort.
Fresh off spending more than $7 million to keep the seat vacant under President Barack Obama, the deep-pocketed Judicial Crisis Network will plow at least $10 million into advertisements urging a number of moderate Senate Democrats to support Trump’s choice. The group is concentrating on Democrats up for reelection in states that Trump won last year.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowed this month that his caucus will oppose high-court nominees that are not “mainstream” — adding that he would “absolutely” try and keep the seat vacant. Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate and will need at least eight Democrats to break a filibuster on a Supreme Court nominee.
Schumer made clear in an interview after the election that he does not feel inclined to confirm a conservative Trump pick.
“This idea that we should now let everything go through doesn’t have much weight with us. The onus is on them, I would say, to nominate a mainstream nominee,” Schumer said.
But JCN believes it can go around Schumer by concentrating its fire on his members who must win over Trump voters in 2018. Ten Senate Democrats are up for reelection in Trump states.
“We are preparing to launch the most robust campaign for a Supreme Court nominee in history and we will force vulnerable Senators up for re-election in 2018 like Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill to decide between keeping their Senate seats or following Chuck Schumer’s liberal, obstructionist agenda,” said JCN’s chief counsel Carrie Severino.
JCN is just one player in a larger, multi-faceted effort outside the halls of the Capitol to confirm a new conservative justice, sources planning the strategy said. The push will also include paid advertising, earned media, research and grassroots outreach from JCN and several other prominent conservative groups. JCN’s paid advertising will likely concentrate on Democrats like Donnelly of Indiana, McCaskill of Missouri and Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana, who all hail from states that Trump won overwhelmingly.
The group will for now give Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) a pass, given his openness to confirming Trump’s future nominee. Manchin has been in contact with JCN since they launched ads against him last year urging him to join Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 2016 blockade after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
“Any vulnerable Senator who signs up for Schumer’s obstructionist strategy will pay a heavy price in 2018,” Severino said. “The President-elect clearly has a mandate when it comes to the Supreme Court and this effort will ensure that the will of the people prevails.” The Tea Party Patriots will engage with conservative activists and local media around the country, the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List will concentrate on social conservatives and America Rising Squared will handle rapid response and research activities.
“Democrats from states President-elect Trump won by double digits will feel maximum pain back home if they walk the plank with Chuck Schumer,” said Brian Rogers, executive director of America Rising Squared. “Our goal is to ensure that if Democrats like Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp or Claire McCaskill choose to obstruct or oppose President-elect Trump’s nominee, they’ll be writing their own political obituary.”
Added Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of SBA List: “We will do everything in our power to support his fulfillment of that promise, including a digital campaign as well as on-the-ground mobilization to rally pro-life voters and lobby key Senators. The stakes are incredibly high.”
CRC Public relations will take the lead messaging for JCN’s effort, and the group has also recruited former Faith & Freedom Coalition executive director Gary Marx and veteran GOP operatives Chris Jankowski, Sara Fagen and Joshua Baca to assist in their efforts to soften up Democratic opposition.
Given the burgeoning effort to make Democrats swallow a conservative justice, there will be intense pressure from liberals to block any of Trump’s nominees after McConnell’s unprecedented strategy of denying Obama’s efforts to fill Scalia’s seat. In an interview shortly before his retirement, former Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Supreme Court is one place Democrats should take a stand.
“If you get some whacky nominees coming to the Supreme Court, senators better do everything in their power to stop them,” Reid said.
But Republicans are taking a hard line themselves, threatening to change longstanding Senate rules if Democrats block Trump’s nominee. Only Supreme Court nominees are subject to a 60-vote threshold after a 2013 rules change, though Reid views further erosion of the Senate’s unique parliamentary rules as unavoidable.
Schumer and McConnell have discussed the matter privately since the election, and when asked if McConnell will make a monumental change to the rules that govern the Senate, Schumer said last year: “We’ll see. We didn’t do it.”