Some Senate Democrats announced this week that they would oppose any nominee President Trump should choose for the Supreme Court. Republicans blocked President Obama’s pick from a vote for almost a year, effectively stealing the seat, so these Democrats claimed it was only fair to subject Trump’s future nominee to the same opposition.
But Democrats’ opposition began to crumble on Tuesday, before Trump even announced his pick.
First, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said in an interview that his party is wrong to oppose all potential nominees, noting that the person will be conservative and anti-choice, which Democrats will have to accept.
“You’ve got to let him put staff together,” he said, adding the stipulation that he would not support a racist or bigoted nominee.
Then moderate Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) piled on, telling Politico that Trump’s nominee “should get a full hearing” and should “absolutely” get a straight vote rather than be blocked by a filibuster.
In order to filibuster Trump’s nominee, as some Democrats said they planned to do, the party would need 40 votes.
Remember this week when Supreme Ct nominee is announced, vote threshold is SIXTY votes, different from the 51 vote margin w/other nominees
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) January 30, 2017
With just 48 seats in the chamber, Democrats cannot afford for many more lawmakers to join Manchin and Heitkamp in defecting from the filibuster plan.
Others lawmakers have not come out explicitly in support of a filibuster, but have left room to use all tools at their disposal to block the nominee. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), for example, said he is “not going to do to President Trump’s nominee what the Republicans in the Senate did to President Obama’s.”
“He supports a committee hearing and a vote in committee,” Sean Coit, Coons’ communications director, told ThinkProgress.
While Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is encouraging his party not to take any hard-line stances until the nominee is announced — a tactic that some are employing — progressives want to see Democratic leaders take a bolder stance.
Instead, a growing number of Democrats are plotting what seems to be a “choose your battle” approach. According to reports from a recent closed-door retreat, some Democrats have decided it’s in their best interest to allow Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee to be approved. Their logic, according to sources, is that if Democrats try to block him or her (but most likely him), Senate Republicans will be able to rewrite the filibuster rules, hurting Democrats in other battles. They argue that opposition should be withheld until the time when Trump will presumably get to name a second justice to the high court.
But any long-game, tactical explanations are hard to support when the president is Donald Trump, the nominee is likely to be extremely anti-choice, anti-gay, and anti-worker, and when the last president’s Supreme Court nominee was blocked by a party that stood together in violating the Constitution by refusing to give him a vote.
UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect Coon’s support for a vote in committee, but not necessarily on the Senate floor.