Democrats want Senate Republicans to reverse course and consider the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, but following another round of primary victories for Donald Trump, they're preparing to call the GOP's bluff and take the issue to the ballot box.
"We really need to do our job. The American people expect that. I'm looking forward to interviewing this guy and finding out what his credentials are and making sure he'll uphold the Constitution," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., said. "We should have a hearing and we should vote. The fact that they're going to not follow the Constitution, I believe is going to have implications on this election."
At a news conference before President Barack Obama nominated Garland, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida; Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico; and Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York were confident they had a better hand to play with Republicans squeezed between their refusal to weigh an Obama court pick and the disruptive nature of Trump's growing front-running status.
“Some Republican elites will try to tell you Trump is hijacking their party. That is not true. Trump’s campaign and his victory among Republicans was years in the making. Literally years,” Wasserman Schultz said, alluding to the "hateful vitriol" she said Republicans condoned at town hall meetings during the debate over the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Picking up on Garland's nomination, Schumer said Republicans wouldn't gain anything by refusing to even hold a hearing on Garland and detected some change.
"The ice is beginning to crack," Schumer said, referring to three GOP senators who said they now will at least meet with the federal appeals court judge.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, isn't backing down, but plans to talk to Garland this spring.
"I congratulated him and said that, you know, things are pretty much as you heard us say. You know the nomination's not moving forward, and that's pretty much it," Grassley said about a brief phone conversation they had on Wednesday.
Asked if he would meet with Garland, Grassley said, "I told him to call back after Easter, or I mean after our spring break, and I was going to talk to him then."
Democrats pushing ahead with campaign-style intensity.
By the time Obama stepped foot in the Rose Garden, Democratic activists had already held events in more than 40 states calling on Republican senators to consider Garland. People involved in organizing the efforts at a national level said more than 1.5 million had already signed petitions.
Amy Brundage, a former senior White House communications official, has helped to organize and orchestrate the outside game like an election campaign with individuals already on the ground in key states.
"We will be mobilizing our network of allies in the states to promote the nominee, and to continue to pressure Republicans on their position of obstruction," Brundage said.
This includes events with "real working Americans," Democratic lawmakers and groups, and coordinated efforts involving legal scholars, historians, and attorneys general, she added.
Democratic senators who serve alongside GOP senators have also been active in holding events and calling for the Senate to act, putting pressure on their home-state counterparts, including those who are on the ballot in 2016.
Even before Obama announced he was nominating Garland, Democratic campaigns were engaging their supporters on the Supreme Court question and the importance of taking back control of the Senate.
There's no clearer example than that of former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, the Democratic candidate favored by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid to succeed him in the chamber.
Almost every day, her campaign fires off a fundraising message with a subject line like, "another Ruth Bader Ginsburg."
"Donald Trump is inching closer and closer toward the Republican nomination, and Nevada is now the battle for the Senate and the future of the Supreme Court," the email said.
The campaign arm for Senate Democrats will be aggressive, as well, as part of their effort to tie Republican incumbents and others on the ballot to Trump.
"Over the coming weeks, we will hold Republican senators accountable for their unprecedented obstruction as they continue to put political games ahead of fulfilling the basic responsibilities of their jobs," DSCC spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said Wednesday.
At the House level, Luján's group zeroed in on gains at the ballot box by Trump in the Republican primaries and caucuses and singled out several congressional Republicans already targeted that could be more vulnerable. This includes Colorado 6th District Rep. Mike Coffman and Virginia 10th District Rep. Barbara Comstock.
"We stand ready to expand the battlefield," Luján said.
When pressed for other districts that could become more competitive, he pointed to Nevada's 3rd District; Pennsylvania's 7th and 8th Districts; New Jersey's 5th District; New York's 22nd District; Florida's 7th District; Utah's 4th District and California's 25th District.
Asked specifically about whether control of the House is now in play, Luján demurred. "Look I don't have a crystal ball, I don't know what's going to happen in November. But I'm optimistic about the environment that's been created today."
Bridget Bowman and Simone Pathé contributed to this report.
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