Centrist Dems Push Back Against Schumer's Efforts to Influence Their SCOTUS Vote: 'Kiss My You Know What'

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) / Getty
July 13, 2018

Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that he will fight President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee "with everything I've got," but centrist Democrats are now saying that the Senate minority leader cannot tell them what to do or how to vote on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination.

While Schumer (D., N.Y.) is facing pressure from the left to keep all 49 Senate Democrats in tow to kill Kavanaugh's nomination, he has several members from red and purple states facing uphill reelection battles this year who do not seem eager just to fall in line, Politico reported Friday.

"I'll be 71 years old in August, you're going to whip me? Kiss my you know what," Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) told Politico when asked if Schumer can influence his vote.

Manchin is not the only Democratic senator to hold that view. Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) also pushed back against Schumer's efforts to pressure them, saying they will not be influenced by Schumer or pressured to vote in favor of his position.

"My decision won’t have anything to do with Chuck Schumer," Donnelly said.

"I'm going to vote the way I'm going to vote regardless of what the leader says," Heitkamp said.

The backlash from centrist Democrats came after Trump announced Monday that Kavanaugh, a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is his nominee for the Supreme Court to replace retiring justice Anthony Kennedy. Kavanaugh's nomination quickly drew rebuke from many Senate Democrats, including Schumer, and liberal groups that vowed to block him from reaching the nation's highest court.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) told Politico that Schumer must tread carefully on how he approaches centrist Democrats who are more likely to support Kavanaugh.

"Chuck knows better [than to twist arms] and I do, too," Durbin said. "These are men and women who will make an historic, important, legal, and personal judgment."

Schumer declined to comment for Politico's story, but it appears that he agrees with Durbin's strategy of a hands-off approach, despite pressure from Democratic operatives and liberal groups like the Indivisible Project.

Adam Jentleson, who worked as deputy chief of staff to former Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.), is calling for Schumer to take a hard line with the entire Democratic caucus, arguing that giving red state Democrats a pass on a tough vote is "neither strategy nor leadership."

"Giving red staters a pass on every tough vote is neither strategy nor leadership. If you care about standing for something, sometimes you have to ask members to do hard things," Jentleson said. "Reid knew when to do that and this is one of those moments."

Reid's former chief of staff, David Krone, also chimed in on the Supreme Court nomination process, saying that Schumer cannot simply "wave a magic wand" to make all the Democrats vote against Kavanaugh.

"There's no blanket approach, and anybody who thinks there is doesn't know what they're talking about," Krone said. "There's only so much a leader can do to influence a final vote … it's not like Chuck Schumer isn't going to try."

In addition to the aforementioned red state Democrats, other vulnerable Democratic senators expected to vote against Kavanaugh are treading carefully to avoid looking like they are being pressured by Schumer, Politico reported.

Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.), who voted against [Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, Neil] Gorsuch, said he "probably won't be whipped" by Schumer, as did Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.). And Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) said "Chuck knows better" than to press her to vote with the caucus.

"He doesn't come to me and say: 'You've got to vote with us on this.' He knows I'll tell him to take a flyin' leap," McCaskill said. "I'm going to do what I think is right. It has nothing to do with the party."

Democrats are already envisioning the triple bank shot they would need to sink Kavanaugh. First, Schumer has to get his moderates to withhold any commitments to back Kavanaugh until Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) and Susan Collins (R., Maine) take a position.

Democrats close to Schumer say that, while he really wants to sink Kavanaugh's nomination, he is deliberately hearing out potential Kavanaugh supporters privately instead of trying to twist their arm and pressure a vote against the judge.

"The worst thing you can do is to try to strong arm a resilient, experienced, independent senator from a red state," said Sen. Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii), a member of the whip team. "It just wouldn't work to try to break arms. They wouldn't respond well to that. So I think he's going about this in a way that respects that."