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The Democratic Strategy on SCOTUS: Drip, Drip, Drip

Democrats gathered outside the Supreme Court. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Democrats gathered outside the Supreme Court. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Democrats made more than a dozen speeches on the Senate floor, rallied outside the Supreme Court, and delivered more than 1 million petition signatures last week, all with a single message for their Republican colleagues: “Do your job.”  

Given the partisan standoff over replacing Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Democratic leaders have pledged not to hold up legislation; instead, they will simply remind their colleagues — and the American public — every day of the Senate’s Constitutional duty to consider a Supreme Court justice.  

“We’re going to keep the pressure up, and I believe the public will keep the pressure up,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate’s third highest ranking Democrat and a senior Judiciary member, told Roll Call.  

Republicans said last week there will be no hearings and no votes on the President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia’s death, the conservative stalwart who died Feb. 13. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said they would not waver from that stance. “I think we have to stick where this is about a process, not an individual,” Grassley  said Thursday. “And if we had a hearing it would be about an individual.”  

Schumer wasn’t so sure. Referring to the 2013 government shutdown, he said, “I believe Mitch McConnell, as he’s done before, even though he says he’ll never budge, will fold.”  

One piece of the Democratic strategy is delivering speeches on the Senate floor.  

“I, along with every other member of the Democratic caucus, will be on the floor next week, and the week after the week after that and the week after that — as long as it takes to bring to the attention of America the failure of this Republican Senate to meet its constitutional mandate,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday.  

But will these speeches and press events actually change any Republicans’ minds?  

“I hope so,” Sen. Diane Feinstein said,  “We’ll see.”  

“Not likely,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “I mean every time they go to the floor to talk about it, you can run that next to the video of them, just a couple of years ago, saying the exact opposite. So it’s a tough sell for them.”  

In addition to floor speeches, Senate Democrats are using press events, like the Feb. 25 news conference at the Supreme Court, and tapping advocacy groups to hammer home their message.  

Schumer and fellow Democrats joined heads of a number of liberal groups including People for the American Way, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and, Feb. 24 to highlight 1.3 million signatures on petitions urging the Senate to consider the president’s nominee.  

On Feb. 26, 82 groups signed a letter to Senate Judiciary Republicans urging the lawmakers to “uphold the Constitution by giving fair consideration, including timely hearings and votes, to the next nominee to the Supreme Court.” Signatories included the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood, NAACP, Center for American Progress, Human Rights Campaign and the Sierra Club.  

Democratic political groups also went on the offensive. The Senate Majority PAC launched digital ads accusing Republicans of “obstructionism.” The Democratic National Committee launched a social media effort with the hashtag #DoYourJob, and hosted daily press calls with lawmakers about how a prolonged vacancy on the court would affect gay rights, immigration, abortion rights, voting rights, and health care.  

Meanwhile, the White House continued reaching out to senators of both parties to note the president’s intention to nominate someone to the court. McConnell, and Grassley will meet with Obama on Tuesday, and plan to reiterate their position that they will not consider the nominee.  

As with Senate Democrats’ speeches, it appears unlikely that the president’s words will change Republicans’ positions. Senior Judiciary member Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, met briefly with the president after a bill signing ceremony on Feb. 24, and told reporters that Obama didn’t change his mind.  

“I listened very carefully,” Hatch said.  

Some Democrats say that when Obama nominates a justice, that could turn the tide of GOP opposition. Democrats jumped on the news that Republican governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada was being vetted, using it as an opportunity to chide GOP senators for not considering a nominee from their own party. Sandoval later withdrew his name from consideration.  

When a nominee is named, that will “change everything,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.  

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who said he has had “preliminary conversations” with some rank and file Republicans about the Supreme Court, agreed an actual nominee could help those discussions.  

“If the president follows through and nominates an eminently qualified consensus candidate who is obviously, outside this current political environment, would be worthy of confirmation, I think then there’s an opportunity for further conversation,” Coons said. 
Lindsey McPherson and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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