The Memo: Democrats hope GOP overplayed hand in Jackson hearings


The dust is beginning to settle on the most contentious part of Judge Ketanji Brown JacksonKetanji Brown JacksonFive of the most memorable moments from Jackson’s confirmation hearings McConnell to vote against Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination Fox News tops cable ratings during Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings MORE’s nomination to the Supreme Court — and Democrats are hoping Republicans overplayed their hand in their opposition to her.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick DurbinDick DurbinFive of the most memorable moments from Jackson’s confirmation hearings McConnell to vote against Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination GOP shoots down Supreme Court boycott MORE (D-Ill.) complained on Thursday that some earlier lines of questioning had been “beneath the dignity of the United States Senate.”

The previous evening, a Republican member of the panel, Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseWaPo: Senate GOP has treated Jackson ‘worse’ than Democrats treated Kavanaugh The Hill’s Morning Report – Tensions rise at Jackson hearing White House avoids Trump attacks on Russia-Ukraine MORE (Neb.), had complained about “jack-assery” and “people mugging for short-term camera opportunities.”

Both Durbin and Sasse were perceived to be referring to aggressive questioning of Jackson the previous day by Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFive of the most memorable moments from Jackson’s confirmation hearings GOP shoots down Supreme Court boycott WaPo: Senate GOP has treated Jackson ‘worse’ than Democrats treated Kavanaugh MORE (R-S.C.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFive of the most memorable moments from Jackson’s confirmation hearings The Hill’s 12:30 Report – US intensifies Russian sanctions, accepts 100K Ukrainian refugees WaPo: Senate GOP has treated Jackson ‘worse’ than Democrats treated Kavanaugh MORE (R-Texas).

Graham, in particular, received a lot of adverse comment on social media for his frequent hectoring interruptions of Jackson.

That doesn’t necessarily guarantee there will be a broader backlash, however. 

For a start, most Republicans remain staunch in their opposition to Jackson.

“I cannot and will not support Judge Jackson for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell to vote against Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination GOP shoots down Supreme Court boycott The Hill’s Morning Report – Tensions rise at Jackson hearing MORE (R-Ky.) said Thursday.

Even some Democrats acknowledge that the combative tone of the questions was simply to be expected in an ever more polarized political environment.

“In terms of the Republican Party in a broader context, I think they know they probably went too far,” said Mark Longabaugh, a Democratic strategist. “But I feel like those guys [such as Cruz and Graham] probably feel like they did themselves well with the right-wing Republican base.

“If we were in a different time, with more swing voters, I think they’d be petrified. But in a polarized country…” Longabaugh added.

Some Republican senators declined to take such an aggressive tone with Jackson. Behind the scenes, conservatives take comfort from the fact that her confirmation, if it happens, will not change the ideological makeup of the court. 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP shoots down Supreme Court boycott Dems plow toward Supreme Court vote after testy hearing Ernst second senator to put ‘hold’ on Garcetti’s ambassadorial nomination MORE (R-Iowa) joked that his wife had been more impressed with Jackson’s opening statement than his own, and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP shoots down Supreme Court boycott Dems plow toward Supreme Court vote after testy hearing Senate panel to hold Supreme Court vote April 4 MORE (R-Texas) told reporters Jackson “seems like a very nice lady.”

That doesn’t mean they will vote for her, however.

“I think she held up very well and I think she is going to be confirmed — but I think it is going to be a party-line vote,” said GOP strategist Brad Blakeman.

An Economist-YouGov poll this week indicated that a plurality of adults, 42 percent, believe Jackson should be confirmed, against 25 percent who said she should not. 

A sizable 33 percent of adults in that poll — which concluded on Tuesday, the first day Jackson was questioned in earnest — said they were not sure either way.

There was much in Jackson’s hearing to strengthen partisans in their preexisting views. 

Republicans hammered Jackson over accusations that she was soft-on-crime, particularly in cases relating to child pornography, as well as trying to link her to hot-button social issues like transgender rights and critical race theory.

Cruz illustrated one line of questioning with blown-up images from children’s books that he said promoted critical race theory. Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnJackson forcefully pushes back against GOP child porn sentencing attacks LIVE COVERAGE: GOP senators grill Jackson in grueling day Republicans to roll dice by grilling Jackson over child pornography sentencing decisions  MORE (R-Tenn.) asked Jackson if she could define what the word “woman” meant. Jackson demurred, saying she was not a biologist.

Cruz and Graham, along with Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyFive of the most memorable moments from Jackson’s confirmation hearings GOP shoots down Supreme Court boycott The Hill’s 12:30 Report – US intensifies Russian sanctions, accepts 100K Ukrainian refugees MORE (R-Mo.), were the most combative in attacking Jackson’s record of sentencing in the child pornography cases. 

While Jackson has indeed sentenced several people convicted of such crimes to prison terms beneath the federal guidelines, this is, in fact, commonplace.

But it was telling that those moments created far more heat than, for example, the questioning of Jackson over abortion. 

Her answer on that point — that she considered the landmark Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood cases to be “settled law” — barely caused a stir, even though abortion rights are one of the most divisive and immediate topics before the high court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote on Jackson’s nomination on April 4 with a vote from the full Senate likely soon afterward.

When it comes to the full Senate vote, the real proof of how Jackson’s hearings have gone will be how many senators — if any — cross the aisle to support her.

Democrats hold out some plausible hope of getting the support of Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDems plow toward Supreme Court vote after testy hearing Graham ramps up tension with Jackson: ‘I think you’re doing it wrong’ Health Care — Schumer searches for path forward on COVID-19 aid MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska), both of whom voted just last year to confirm Jackson to her current role as a federal appellate judge on the District of Columbia Circuit.

Graham, the third Republican who voted with them on that occasion, seems out of reach now.

But there could be some modest surprises in the other direction if Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyHealth Care — Romney says he’s making progress on COVID aid Romney working on GOP counteroffer to new Dem COVID-19 funding plan WaPo: Senate GOP has treated Jackson ‘worse’ than Democrats treated Kavanaugh MORE (R-Utah) or Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntDems plow toward Supreme Court vote after testy hearing Trump touts Long in Missouri Senate race amid Greitens allegations The Hill’s Morning Report – Jackson fends off attacks; Biden to Europe MORE (R-Mo) or Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSenate GOP eyes Hunter Biden, Fauci probes after midterms  A movement is underway to ban lawmakers from trading stocks in office Senate panel advances pandemic preparedness bill on bipartisan vote MORE (R-N.C.), both of whom are retiring, voted to confirm Jackson.

There appears little chance of any Democrat flipping. Republicans have held out hope that centrist Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinEnergy & Environment — Biden walks tightrope on oil industry messaging Equilibrium/Sustainability — Tropical forests help cool the whole planet Sunrise Movement looks to bolster progressives in Pennsylvania, North Carolina MORE (W-Va.) or Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaSenate votes to nix mask mandate for public transportation Democrats plot strategy to defy expectations, limit midterm losses More Americans cite equality concerns, but most back voting laws: poll MORE (Ariz.) could be persuaded to pull a shock and vote against Jackson’s confirmation. Manchin announced his support for Jackson on Friday, however, and while Sinema has not announced her decision it would be a big surprise for her to not vote with her party.

In the end, something close to a party-line vote appears the most likely conclusion.

The question is whether the heat generated by Jackson’s hearings still burns in voters’ minds come November when they cast their ballots in the midterm elections.

Strategists in both parties are skeptical of that — but some Democrats, like Longabaugh, argue that her confirmation, if it happens, could at least bolster his party’s case that they’ve done what they said they would do.

“From a progressive standpoint, I think the party is proud we’ll have put the first African America woman on the court,” he said, “And from Biden’s point of view, it’s a promise made and a promise kept.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.





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