When Democrats retook the House in the 2018 midterms, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hailed it as a triumph of Democratic strategy. “Having a Democratic House puts our caucus in a much better position when it comes to both holding the president accountable and getting things done,” Schumer, who lost three Democratic seats in his own chamber, told Politico. “As in the last two years, the secret to our success will be unity.”
Despite this lofty talk from Schumer, divisions in the party were on full display just months earlier; after President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on July 9, 2018, liberal activists found Democratic leaders in the Senate were reluctant to join them in waging all-out war. Of course, Senate Democrats were forced to reconsider when it emerged that Christine Blasey Ford had credibly accused the judge of attempting to rape her when they were teenagers. Fresh reporting in Ryan Grim’s new book, We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement, sheds more light on Senate Democrats’ tactics during the Kavanaugh hearings and suggests that at this pivotal moment, leaders treated their energized base more like a threat than an asset.
…Schumer seemed to share Feinstein’s desire for moderation. Grim reports that he “repeatedly told outside allies that a furious stand against Kavanaugh would enrage Trump supporters and only disappoint progressive voters. We have no power, he explained repeatedly.” When Kavanaugh’s nomination was first announced, Demand Justice, an activist group, threatened to run ads against conservative Senate Democrats likely to vote for the judge; namely, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Schumer, Grim writes, “was furious” with the group. He had a caucus to protect.