Senate Democrats, confident of passing legislation banning job discrimination against gay people, are readying their next assertive moves on three other issues important to their base:
- Abortion rights
- Minimum wage
- Federal judiciary
Majority Leader Harry Reid announced this morning that he'll push again next week to advance one of President Barack Obama’s nominees for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguably the second-most-powerful federal bench in the country because of its jurisdiction over cases challenging federal regulations.
The nominee he’s chosen to advance next is Nina Pillard, a Georgetown law professor whose writings have stirred criticism and concern among opponents of abortion rights. That controversy, combined with the Republican position that the court’s workload doesn't merit filling any of the three vacancies, would seem to doom her nomination to being stopped on the initial cloture vote. That's what happened last week when the GOP stopped another nominee, Patricia Millett, whose ideology and qualifications drew no negative reviews.
Pushing Pillard’s nomination will nonetheless permit Democrats to gain some attention for their interest in steering the federal judiciary more to their liking. It could lay the predicate for a potential move to change the Senate filibuster rules once all three of Obama’s D.C. Circuit choices are blocked.
The second front the party will open today is a pre-emptive campaign to thwart legislation to create a federal prohibition on abortions after 20 weeks. Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is planning on introducing a bill this afternoon that’s almost identical to the measure the House passed earlier this year. It's part of his party’s effort to get on campaign offense early, not only by appealing to the socially conservative GOP base, but also by staking out a rare position in the culture wars that a majority of the population agrees with.
But even before he does so, a trio of Democrats — Patty Murray, Barbara Boxer and Richard Blumenthal — will take to the floor to condemn the bill and promise an all-out crusade to defeat it. Part of their argument will be that the measure is a sign the conservative wing of the GOP is wrongly focused on divisive social issues when the congressional focus should be on economic growth.
Given the current divide in the Senate, it appears the anti-abortion camp won't have the 60 votes it needs to advance the measure beyond a filibuster. But some of the centrist Democrats in tight re-election races could make the vote counts shift.
The last item in the Democrats' new appeal-to-the-base trifecta is the minimum wage. Party leaders see little chance they can overcome a filibuster that Republicans would surely mount against raising the guaranteed federal wage floor to $9 from the $7.25, as Obama has proposed. But they are confident that defeat of proposal would energize voters who are young, poor or members of labor unions.
Democrats seem likely to announce in the coming days that they will launch a campaign leading up to a climatic vote after Thanksgiving .