How Democratic Groups Plan to Blitz on SCOTUS

Using the Obamacare repeal fight as an example, a group of organizations is mounting ground and air forces for the months to come.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

It’s Obamacare repeal 2.0.

That’s the view that a host of progressive advocacy groups are taking as they await President Trump’s selection of a Supreme Court justice to replace Anthony Kennedy. It is the second appointment in his term and one that could have profound ramifications on the country for decades to come.

While Democrats in the Senate are essentially powerless in halting a confirmation vote, one which would likely take place this fall, these organizations have launched an all-out blitz to pressure at least two Republican senators to vote against the eventual pick and to keep the entire Democratic caucus unified in a “no” vote.

NARAL Pro-Choice America hosted a call on Sunday night discussing threats to Roe v. Wade from a conservative-tilted Supreme Court, during which ten thousand activists participated. Indivisible, a resistance organization formed at the onset of Trump’s administration, put out a guide encouraging constituents to confront Senators about the upcoming vote. And Protect Our Care, devoted to preserving the Affordable Care Act, launched an ad highlighting the potential of a new justice who would vote to overturn pre-existing conditions.

And that is only the beginning, as activists say they’ll employ similar strategies of office visits, protests and advertisements that ignited constituents in protest last summer during the height of the Republican congress’ ACA repeal efforts.

“The leading indictment of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees will be that they tip the balance to overturning Roe v. Wade and overturning the Affordable Care Act,” Jesse Ferguson, a consultant for Protect Our Care, told The Daily Beast in an interview. “And I think for some senators, one of those arguments is more important than the other. For some they’re equally as important but both are abhorrent to voters who don’t believe we should be overturning Roe or overturning protections for people with preexisting conditions.”

Their first ad, entitled “Emergency,” highlights the administration’s refusal to defend the ACA in a lawsuit filed by 20 states which could render provisions denying people coverage based on pre-existing conditions unconstitutional. In a strategic move, Protect Our Care plans to run the ad in Washington D.C., Alaska, and Maine the week prior to July 9th, when Trump is expected to make his pick. There will be more to come after that additional buy, a spokesperson said.

That is in addition to a reported $5 million investment for TV, radio and voter mobilization, from the liberal outfit We Demand Justice, which will reportedly focus on Maine and Alaska as well.

Political organizers view Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) as the most likely to break from the pack in their vote for Kennedy’s replacement. That is not only due to their previous pro-choice stances but also because of their no votes on the so-called skinny repeal of Obamacare in July of 2017. The only other Republican senator to vote no on the measure was Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who remains in Arizona recovering from brain cancer.

As plans continue to come together from these advocacy organizations, their problem is compounded by the fact that three Democratic senators voted to confirm President Trump’s first Supreme Court pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch. Those senators, Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Joe Donnelly (D-IN), are all in the midst of tough reelection campaigns where their votes could be used as political fodder against them.

Activists have developed plans to pressure these senators as well as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who they are holding accountable to keep the entire caucus together in opposition.

Indivisible has set up a toll free line to connect constituents directly with senators, as well as a call script to be used when they reach their respective offices. According to a member of the organization, the website briefly crashed due to overwhelming interest when the organization’s  co-founder Ezra Levin appeared on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show last Thursday. The group also held a town hall on Monday at which Schumer was supposed to field questions from constituents, seen as an opportunity to hold him accountable. His plane had mechanical issues which kept him from the sweltering event at the air conditioning less-Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, leading him to do a telephone town hall instead.

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Indivisible and other groups are hopeful that Democrats will acknowledge that voting for a Kennedy replacement, often viewed as a swing vote, will be different from the vacancy left by conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

“He was recognized as someone who at times could be a moderating force,” Elizabeth Beavers, who is handling the SCOTUS plan for Indivisible told The Daily Beast. “This could actually change the balance of the vote numerically and I think that has to weigh heavily on Senators’ minds.”

After encouraging voters to speak with their senators during July 4th events, Indivisible will be launching a week of action following Trump’s official selection during which time constituents can go to district Senate offices to keep up the pressure.

Additionally, some advocates think that the Democrats who voted to confirm Gorsuch last year will feel less pressure this time due to the lack of competing confirmation hearings.

“Out of the gate with Gorsuch, you also had a bunch of other competing fights,” Kristine Lucius, executive vice president for policy at The Leadership Conference, told The Daily Beast, referencing specifically the hearings for Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “I think it feels very different this year than a year and a half ago.” Her organization has also launched a #SaveSCOTUS website intended to provide as much information as possible about the vacancy and the potential Kennedy replacements.

While much of the planning after July is still in flux, these organizations are confident they won’t be caught flat-footed and that they have the winning message. A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation from late June found that 76 percent of respondents said it was “very important” that pre-existing condition protections be sustained. And a national Quinnipiac University poll on Monday found that 63 percent of respondents agreed with the Roe v. Wade decision.

“Make no mistake, this is the day that they have been waiting for and this is the day that Donald Trump promised when he was on the campaign trail and said that he would have a litmus test for any SCOTUS nominee, would punish women, and criminalize abortion,” NARAL’s president, Ilyse Hogue, said on the organization’s call on Sunday night. “We know that we stand with the majority of Americans with reproductive freedom and we will take our fight to all 100 senators and all 50 states. People are ready to fight. They know that nothing less than the soul of our country is at stake.”