At the heart of the Republican strategy surrounding Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation was a calculated bet: Democrats, GOP leaders concluded, would no doubt complain, protest, and plead with Republicans to be more responsible. But when push comes to shove, GOP leaders assumed, Democrats wouldn't actually do anything.
As NBC News reported yesterday:
When Senate Republicans voted on a rainy Sunday to put Amy Coney Barrett on a glide path to a lifetime Supreme Court appointment one week before Election Day, they were making a bet that Democrats wouldn't retaliate and erase conservative gains. "A lot of what we've done over the last four years will be undone, sooner or later, by the next election," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sunday after the 51-48 procedural vote against Democratic objections. "But they won't be able to do much about this for a long time to come."
Except, strictly speaking, "able" probably wasn't the right word -- because if Democrats reclaim the Senate majority, they'll be "able" to do quite a bit.
The question is less about ability and more about will.
And while I won't pretend to know which party will be in the majority next year, or whether Democrats will muster the strength and unity to take sweeping actions, I think it's fair to say fury in Democratic circles has reached levels without modern precedent.
We saw the first hints of this in early August, when Senate Republicans openly discussed the possibility of rushing through a Supreme Court nominee -- at the time, a hypothetical scenario. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a relatively moderate institutionalist not known as a partisan bomb-thrower, sent a shot across the GOP's bow.
"If they show that they're unwilling to respect precedent, rules and history, then they can't feign surprise when others talk about using a statutory option that we have that's fully constitutional in our availability," Kaine told NBC News, referring to Senate Republicans. "I don't want to do that. But if they act in such a way, they may push it to an inevitability."
In recent weeks, others have started reading from a similar script. In remarks on the chamber floor yesterday, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) lamented the fact that the traditional Senate "has been destroyed" through Republican recklessness. Soon after, Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, said on CNN, "I don't want to pack the court. I don't want to change the number. I don't want to have to do that. But if all of this rule breaking is taking place, what does the majority expect?"
On the show last night, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), whom no one has ever described as a radical ideologue, conceded that it's time for "a wide-open conversation about how do we rebalance our courts." The Delaware Democrat added that he wants to see a "re-examining" of "the process, the results, and the consequences" surrounding what Republicans have done to the judiciary.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) added on the Senate floor last night:
"I want to be very clear with my Republican colleagues. You may win this vote. And Amy Coney Barrett may become the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. But you will never, never get your credibility back. And the next time the American people give Democrats a majority in this chamber, you will have forfeited the right to tell us how to run that majority. You may win this vote. But in the process you will speed the precipitous decline of faith in our institutions, our politics, the Senate and the Supreme Court. You will give an already divided and angry nation a fresh outrage, and open a wound in this chamber that may never heal. You walk a perilous road. I know you think that this will eventually blow over. But you are wrong.... My colleagues may regret this for a lot longer than they think."
Watch this space.