The Slatest

Red-State Democrats Make a Show of Telling Off Chuck Schumer

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia speaks to a reporter on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) speaks to a reporter on Capitol Hill.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Senate Democrats up for reelection in red states this year are in a pickle. They don’t want to alienate the liberal base by voting for Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, but they also need to win over a substantial slice of Trump voters this fall. Kavanaugh’s nomination does provide at least one valuable opportunity—to make it as clear as humanely possible that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer isn’t telling them what to do.

Behold this collection of quotes rounded up by Politico this week:

Joe Donnelly of Indiana: “My decision won’t have anything to do with Chuck Schumer.”

Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota: “I’m going to vote the way I’m going to vote regardless of what the leader says.”

Claire McCaskill of Missouri: “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.”

Joe Manchin of West Virginia: “I’ll be 71 years old in August, you’re going to whip me? Kiss my you know what.”

None of that will come as a surprise to Schumer. The Democratic leader has promised to fight Kavanaugh’s nomination, but he also knows that the only way to ultimately prevent Trump from pushing the court further to the right is to take control of the Senate. And for Democrats to do that, they need at least three—and likely all four—of those red-state Democrats in the upper chamber next year. Publicly pressuring any of them to vote against Kavanaugh now would play right into the hands of Republicans, who are already arguing that those Democrats are nothing more than Schumer puppets.

That’s not to say that Schumer can’t exert some pressure behind closed doors, just that it’s far too early to be waging a full-court press. If Democrats are going to keep Kavanaugh off the high court, they’ll need to keep their entire caucus together and convince at least one Republican to join them in voting against confirmation. It’s doubtful they can do the latter. And if they can’t, then Schumer might even give his own members the green light to cross him, in the hopes they’ll all be around the next time he needs them.