Faced with an extremely anti-Trump activist base, most Senate Democrats are walking away from moderation and risking a nuclear showdown with Republicans over the Supreme Court.
Most strikingly, some Democrats in tough re-election races in 2018 are choosing to not only oppose Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, but are also saying they will filibuster him.
“[Bill] Nelson portrays himself back home as a moderate gentleman farmer but in reality he has a steady left-wing voting record.”
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The strategy is risky. Moderate Democrats, in states where Trump won, could turn off swing voters in the 2018 midterm elections with the transparent obstructionism.
In Florida, where President Donald Trump won with 4.62 million votes, a hot Senate race is shaping up. But the incumbent Democrat will apparently not be running as a moderate.
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U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said on Wednesday he would be voting against Gorsuch. But surprisingly, Nelson added he would also be supporting a filibuster against Gorsuch.
The decision has raised eyebrows in the Sunshine State. Nelson likes to portray himself as a moderate. He won election in 2000, and then re-election in 2006 and 2012 by coming across as a middle-of-the-road Democrat — the kind that used to dominate Florida. It is a remarkable political gamble in a state that has moved decidedly toward the Republican Party.
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Florida has a GOP governor, a supermajority in the State House and a near-supermajority in the State Senate — Nelson is the only Democrat who holds elected statewide office.
Nelson’s decision to support a filibuster of Gorsuch means he has calculated he would lose Democratic support, perhaps provoking a more liberal challenger in a 2018 Democratic primary, according to Politico.
Politico’s Marc Caputo wrote that Nelson’s decision shook up the filibuster debate on the Democratic side. But in placating the Left in a GOP-leaning state, Nelson has opened himself up to potent criticism.
“Nelson portrays himself back home as a moderate gentleman farmer but in reality he has a steady left-wing voting record,” said Jeff Bechdel, an operative with the conservative-leaning America Rising PAC, in an interview with Politico.
Nelson probably thinks he doesn’t need trouble within his own party. He will have enough problems with the Republicans, who will likely nominate Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a multi-millionaire with the capacity to heavily bankroll his campaign.
Florida isn’t the only place where so-called moderate Democrats are showing true-blue colors. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), a pro-life Democrat, has said he will filibuster Gorsuch. Casey is up for re-election in 2018 in a state that voted for Trump.
A filibuster can kill a Supreme Court nomination, although the only one in recent history to be subject to a filibuster was former President George W. Bush’s 2006 nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
The filibuster was broken. Now Democrats, in the Senate minority, are increasingly moving toward obstruction aimed at Gorsuch.
But if Democrats go through with it, they could lose the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations forever.
That’s why the decision to filibuster Gorsuch is seen by Republicans as a bit more extreme than normal. The GOP Senate leadership has hinted they will go “nuclear” — that is, they will gather enough votes in a simple-majority vote to end the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees forever.
“They’re going to get an abolition of the filibuster,” said conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer, speaking on Fox News on Thursday night.
Krauthammer said the GOP could abolish the filibuster and then nominate someone for the next Supreme Court vacancy who is more unpalatable to Democrats than Gorsuch.
Democrats won’t have a lot to complain about. In 2013, a Democratic Senate majority got rid of the filibuster for the president’s judicial nominees and all executive branch nominations, save for the Supreme Court.
Even calculating that the left-wing base is against Gorsuch, and ready to vent their anger at Democrats who support the Colorado jurist, some Democrats decided it was too much.
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said on Thursday they are voting for Gorsuch. Both are up f0r re-election in states Trump dominated.
But missing in action, for now, is Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), who scored an upset win in 2012. He is up for re-election in 2018 in one of the most pro-Trump states. Donnelly has not said how he will vote, or if he will filibuster.
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