WASHINGTON – Conservatives are betting millions that this week’s Senate vote on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch will cause Democrats up for re-election in 2018 to weigh last November’s election results in deciding whether to support him or not.

They are targeting Democrats — such as Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri —from states President Donald Trump won easily, predicting political consequences if they vote against his high court nominee.

The conservative Judicial Crisis Network, which helped block President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland last year, has been airing costly TV and radio ads in Indiana, Missouri and other pro-Trump states for Gorsuch. In January, the network announced it had committed $10 million to pressure vulnerable Democratic senators to break ranks with their party leaders and confirm Gorsuch.

Network policy director Carrie Severino mentioned Donnelly and McCaskill in particular — and $1 million in ads have been running in their states and two others where Democrats face re-election in 2018. She said the ads “will force vulnerable senators up for re-election … to decide between keeping their Senate seats or following Chuck Schumer’s liberal, obstructionist agenda.”

Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, says he will try to block Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court on the ground he is too far to the right. He has urged his fellow Democrats to join him.

The Judicial Crisis Network sees that as an opportunity. The latest pro-Gorsuch ad running in Indiana says, “Senator Donnelly has a choice. Be another liberal who puts politics before country or do what’s right.”

The National Rifle Association is also trying to leverage next year’s elections. In another $1 million ad campaign, it is urging Donnelly, McCaskill and two other Democratic senators from states won by Trump to protect gun rights by supporting Gorsuch. Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge from Colorado, needs at least eight Democrats to support him to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to break a promised Senate filibuster against his appointment.

Republicans hold a 52-48 edge over Democrats in the Senate.

GOP senators could change the rules to require a simple majority vote to prevent a filibuster and move to confirm Gorsuch if they can’t convince enough Democrats to support him — an action known as the “nuclear option.”

Democrats, when they controlled the Senate, changed the rules and used the option to overcome Republican objections to federal judges below the Supreme Court level. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that set a precedent Republicans will follow in the Gorsuch confirmation process if necessary.

Two Democratic senators facing re-election next year in pro-Trump states, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, announced this week they will support Gorsuch.

But Missouri’s McCaskill announced Friday she will not do so despite the political risk. She also said she expects Republicans will succeed in modifying the Senate 60-vote rule to a simple majority vote, and the change “will usher in more extreme judges in the future” on the Supreme Court.

Gorsuch’s appointment is also opposed by Democrat Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, a state that went for Trump. He said in a statement last week that he had “serious concerns about Judge Grosuch’s rigid and restrictive judicial philosophy.”

Republican Congressman Mike Kelly from Pennsylvania criticized Casey’s decision, saying he’d be voting “against the most qualified nominee for Supreme Court that we’ve had.”

Kelly said Senator Casey’s father, a former governor of Pennsylvania, would be disappointed. “The only thing they have in common is their name,” said Kelly.

Elections two years from now are also the backdrop in another controversial issue absorbing Congress, the failure of House Republican leaders to pass legislation repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. 

A combination of conservative and moderate House Republicans scuttled the GOP plan. The conservatives said it didn’t go far enough to repeal Obamacare and the moderates said it went too far by increasing the number of uninsured Americans.

For House Republicans who didn’t back their party’s health care plan, contributing to the failure could end up being the worst of both worlds. 

They did not repeal Obamacare as they’ve been promising for seven years. And by backing a plan with weak public support, they made themselves open to attacks from the left and the right in their re-election campaigns.

On Friday, conservative groups, in a call with reporters, attacked the Republican health plan’s champions, which included the president, for not keeping their promise to the voters to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica, said passing the bill would have been “political suicide” by alienating core conservative voters needed to win elections. He said Republican leaders have “treated the base like a perpetual headache” that could cost the party its majority advantage in both the House and the Senate.

Andy Roth, vice president of the free market advocacy group, Club for Growth, said it’s too early to tell whether supporters would face primary challenges, but there would be “repercussions” for them.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee viewed the failure of House Republicans to approve a health care law as an opportunity for Democrats. 

The campaign arm of Senate Democrats launched a six-figure, online ad campaign focused on 14 states — including Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — where Democratic incumbents will be seeking re-election in states won by Trump.

The emotional ad shows a woman pawning her wedding ring and a man selling his truck to pay for their little girl’s hospital care, and blames it on the Republican plan.

Kery Murakami is Washington reporter for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., parent company of The Daily Item. Contact him at kmurakami@cnhi.com.

Trending Video