October 24, 2021

Dems weigh SCOTUS strategy: scorched earth or restraint

PELOSI’S JUGGLING ACT A big share of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s caucus is already eying scorched-earth tactics over what they see as the Senate GOP’s latest “stolen” Supreme Court seat. Plenty other House Democrats, though, just want to get through the election — ideally with a coronavirus relief package in tow — and have zero interest in a court-packing fight, let alone another impeachment. Welcome to the House Democratic Caucus in a world without RBG.

It’ll be a tumultuous few weeks ahead for House Democrats, as Pelosi attempts to temper expectations on the left about their role in the looming SCOTUS battle — without dampening their enthusiasm ahead of the party’s most important election in decades. She’s also hearing from dozens of Trump-district Democrats who fear any dramatic calls from their party will wind up in a GOP attack ad.

Inside Washington, many progressives understand their limited powers in the Senate’s fight and are instead working to channel grassroots energy to assure victory in seizing control of the Senate and White House in November. But there’s also a hunger from progressive groups — and even among some elected Democrats — to do even more.

Vulnerable Democrats, however, worry that talk of drastic delay tactics could be weaponized against them back home, especially with Congress unable to produce a deal on pandemic relief. “People in my district are worried about their pocketbooks and their kids,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) said Tuesday. “And while they feel very strongly about the importance of a lifetime appointment … they want to know when the next Covid emergency relief bill is gonna be here.” More from Heather, your Huddle host, and Sarah: https://politi.co/35Y5ncI.

Related read: “Harry Reid on eliminating filibuster: It’s a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’” via Jacob Knutson of Axios: https://bit.ly/3hPsFDW

SEALING THE DEAL — Five days before President Donald Trump announces his pick to serve on the Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has locked up the support for a confirmation vote ASAP.

Sen. Mitt Romney on Tuesday handed McConnell all the votes he needs to move ahead with replacing the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg without delay, which shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who read Burgess and Marianne’s Romney story this week. Of course, Republicans will still need to evaluate whomever Trump nominates, and confirmation isn’t necessarily guaranteed. But it sure looks like everything’s coming up roses for Republicans.

The big question now: when to hold a confirmation vote on the floor. GOP leaders are still mulling whether to try to fill the vacancy before the election or wait until a lame-duck session, which each carry their own set of risks and rewards. But as Burgess reports, the prevailing view in the party is to move as quickly as possible.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham is discussing hearings the week of Oct 12, per WaPo. And some Senate Republicans are discussing a vote around Oct. 29, per the AP. Expect the GOP to divulge more details after Saturday, when Trump taps a nominee.

Related read: “Democrats weigh how to handle Trump’s potential Supreme Court pick after past flap over Barrett’s faith,” by CNN’s Manu Raju: https://cnn.it/2HqSq0Q

‘I OBJECT’ … Democrats, meanwhile, are beginning to roll out their (very limited) delay tactics, including invoking the so-called “two hour rule” yesterday — a protest tactic that prevents Senate committees from meeting. And one of the business meetings that was blocked? A briefing of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But, but, but … a senior Dem aide told Marianne: “Democrats won’t be invoking the 2 hour rule [today] because we want the HELP Committee hearing to highlight the Trump administration’s bungled federal response to COVID and also to allow tomorrow’s long-sought Intelligence Committee hearing to move forward.”

So, what’s the mood in the Senate now, you ask? Well, the chamber couldn’t even pass a nonbinding resolution to honor RBG, with Sen. Ted Cruz accusing Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of making it partisan. More from Marianne on how tensions are running high in the Senate: https://politi.co/3cw3xBa.

Related read: “The Senate was designed to cool our politics down. No more,” from NBC News’ Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Carrie Dann and Melissa Holzberg: https://nbcnews.to/2RTkuMo.

DOWN BALLOT BATTLE — Senate Republicans are once again betting it all on the courts — even if it might hurt incumbents in Maine and Colorado. But the party appears to be all in: At a recent GOP meeting, most Republicans said SCOTUS is a top issue in their races, while Sen. Tom Cotton warned senators not to buy Democrats’ threats. “A Supreme Court debate right before an election is good for us,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Dems, however, counter that with Obamacare hanging in the balance so close to the election, it feels more like 2018 than 2016. “The American people do not want to see Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump go forward and steal a second Supreme Court seat,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). And some Republicans acknowledge it’s hard to predict how the politics will shake out. The story from Burgess and Andrew: https://politi.co/2FXxDBg.

Related read: “With Court Prize in Sight, Republicans Unite Behind Trump Once Again,” from NYT’s Nicholas Fandos: https://nyti.ms/2RO5HCw.

HAPPY WEDNESDAY! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this September 23.

TUESDAY MOST CLICKED: The Middletown Press’s story on Rep. Jahana Hayes calling for Covid testing in the Capitol was the big winner.

A DEAL ON SOMETHING, AT LEAST — The House cleared a bipartisan short-term funding bill on Tuesday night that virtually eliminates the odds of a pre-election government shutdown. The bill — a rare compromise these days — allowed Republicans to claim victory on trade relief for farmers while Democrats walked away with even more money for pandemic-related food assistance.

Congressional leaders finally reached a deal Tuesday afternoon, the culmination of several weeks’ worth of talks that occasionally went astray. But both sides agreed they wanted to get a shutdown out of the way before November and eventually agreed to billions in new spending on farm payments and food programs. The full recap of the day from Caitlin Emma and Sarah: https://politi.co/2FWft3d.

Related read: “House Appropriations candidates float possible return of earmarks,” by CQ Roll Call’s Jennifer Shutt: https://bit.ly/2RSh6RK.

ALL FIZZLE, NO SIZZLE — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) released his long-awaited report from the GOP’s Hunter Biden probe. But it was largely a rehash of old claims made by Trump’s team during impeachment, introduced little new information and doesn’t match Johnson’s repeated claims that it would upend the presidential race. More from Kyle and Andrew: https://politi.co/3kDQArG.

LAST-DITCH ATTEMPT — Democrats in the most competitive races are vocally pressing Pelosi and her leadership team for more dramatic steps on a coronavirus relief package. More than 20 Democrats signed a bipartisan letter to Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday urging them to keep lawmakers in Washington until a relief bill can be passed — even if it means less time to campaign before November. “This should be our number one priority in the coming days,” lawmakers wrote in the letter.

At least a dozen Democrats are also privately discussing joining a GOP discharge petition that would force a vote on additional aid for small business grants, known as the Paycheck Protection Program. And in one sign of hope, Pelosi told her members in a private call on Tuesday that she’s still pushing to secure a pandemic aid package with GOP leaders — regardless of the intense discussions over the court across the Capitol — with hopes of delivering relief before the election.

But a deal has remained elusive thus far on Capitol Hill. And with government funding now off the House’s plate, it could be hard to keep lawmakers in town any longer than they need to be here.

Related read: “Pelosi holds moment of silence for 200,000 who died of coronavirus,” via The Hill’s JulieGrace Brufke: https://bit.ly/3j8hqYs.

CHANGE IS GONNA COME — There have only been 10 black senators in the chamber’s history. But this cycle, there are six black non-incumbent candidates running for the Senate. More from HuffPo’s Amanda Terkel and Kevin Robillard on how 2020 could be a breakthrough year for black lawmakers: “Six Black non-incumbent candidates won major party nominations for Senate seats. Victories for the five Democrats and one lone Republican would constitute a dramatic increase in representation in a body that’s been stubbornly white, wealthy and male for nearly all of its 200-plus years.

“It’s unclear if the six nominations set a record, but Black political operatives, activists and candidates all agreed it’s without precedent in recent history. ‘It’s certainly something I haven’t seen in my lifetime,’ said Chris Scott, political director at Collective PAC, a group fighting to increase Black representation.” The dispatch: https://bit.ly/3mMZyof.

COURTING QANON: “In apparent play for QAnon supporters, GOP attack ads claim Democrat lawmakers are defending ‘sex offenders,’” by Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff: https://yhoo.it/2Eqlx38.

The S-3 Group has hired Jennifer Holmes as vice president of operations. She was previously a staffer on the House Appropriations Committee.

The House gavels in at 9 a.m., with first votes expected between 1 and 2 p.m. Today’s agenda: https://bit.ly/3hXXw17.

The Senate meets at 10 a.m. to resume consideration of the nomination of John Hinderaker to be a U.S. district judge for the District of Arizona. They will vote on whether to invoke cloture on the Hinderaker nomination at 11:45 a.m.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Committee chairs hold a press conference on a “major reforms package to protect our democracy” at 9 a.m. in HVC Studio A.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and GOP leaders hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. in HVC Studio A.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) holds his weekly pen and pad briefing via conference call beginning at 11:00 a.m.

TUESDAY’S WINNER: No one correctly guessed that John Randolph of Virginia was the first senator to filibuster in 1825.

TODAY’S QUESTION: Who was the youngest Supreme Court justice ever appointed? And who was the oldest? The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your best guess to [email protected].

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