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'Capitulation' Not an Option: Memo Details How Dems Can Stall or Stop GOP Rush to Confirm Trump SCOTUS Pick

"Hill Democrats and MSNBC pundits have been saying there's very little Dems can do to block Trump's illegitimate Supreme Court pick. False."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) listens as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during her weekly news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. on August 6, 2020. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Warning against "mere capitulation" to the unpopular effort by President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans to rush through another right-wing Supreme Court justice right before the November election, a memo circulating on Capitol Hill outlines a number of ways in which Democrats in both chambers of Congress can gum up the works and delay the advance of Trump's nominee.

First reported by The Daily Poster on Thursday and later published in full by The Intercept, the document was compiled by people familiar with the nuances of congressional procedure, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has frequently used to further his party's aims while stifling those of his Democratic counterparts.

"Mere capitulation to what Washington insiders see as the inevitable will be viewed by many as abandonment of the Democratic base and could undermine enthusiasm."
—Memo

The memo details a number of procedural maneuvers available to congressional Democrats, including the introduction of privileged War Powers Resolutions—an idea floated this week by Kate Kizer of Win Without War—and House passage of impeachment resolutions against Trump or other administration officials, which the Senate would be required to consider before moving to other business.

Acknowledging that their list of possible delay tactics is "far from exhaustive" and not guaranteed to succeed, the authors of the memo maintain that they "have reason to believe that not all potential options have been thoroughly explored" by Democratic leaders, who are facing pressure from advocacy groups and progressive lawmakers to pull out all the stops against Trump's pick to fill the vacancy left by the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Thus far, as Bloomberg's Steven Dennis reported Thursday, Senate Democrats not been doing all they can to slow activity in the chamber.

"As a threshold matter," the document recommends, "congressional Democrats must enter a war-room posture and convene a group of the people most knowledgeable of Senate (and House) procedure who can work together and be mutually generative of relevant tactical ideas."

The memo authors note that on top of the potentially disastrous confirmation of another right-wing justice—who the president has vowed to name Saturday—failure by Democrats to do everything in their power to slow Trump's Supreme Court pick could "be viewed by many as abandonment of the Democratic base and could undermine enthusiasm."

"Much of the broad electorate will want to see congressional Democrats fighting to protect the court and their constitutional rights," the document says.

Read the full memo:

Re: Safeguarding the Court

Democrats must act to delay action by Leader McConnell to fill Justice Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat. Denying action before the election could markedly increase the probability that the results of the election would change the vote in the Senate and thereby allow for the seating of a more progressive Justice. Failing that, moving forward with confirmation during a lame duck session, if consent of the governed had been denied, would buttress the case for structural Court reform.

Moreover, much of the broad electorate will want to see Congressional Democrats fighting to protect the Court and their Constitutional rights. Mere capitulation to what Washington insiders see as the inevitable will be viewed by many as abandonment of the Democratic base and could undermine enthusiasm.

At least two contextual considerations make the current circumstance more favorable to the use of dilatory tactics than were the Gorsuch and Kavanaugh confirmations, both of which took place during the 115th Congress: 1) The electorate might vote to change control of the Senate and/or the White House in a matter of weeks and 2) Democrats control the House of Representatives, which can play a part in compelling certain action in the Senate.

Engaging in such dilatory tactics would also likely force McConnell to keep the entire Republican Conference in the vicinity of the Senate, in order to maintain a quorum and to win various votes. This might become increasingly untenable because up to a dozen sitting Republicans are defending their seats in close races and will want to return home to campaign — including to participate in debates and other events they will be loath to miss.

As a threshold matter, the Congressional Democrats must enter a war-room posture and convene a group of the people most knowledgeable of Senate (and House) procedure who can work together and be mutually generative of relevant tactical ideas.

Suggestions contained herein, even if all acted upon in good faith, might not be dispositive of the outcome of the confirmation process — but we have reason to believe that not all potential options have been thoroughly explored.

Actions Congressional Democrats should consider include the following — but what follows is far from exhaustive. We do not purport to have considered every possibility, and this document intentionally omits discussion of certain creative tactics that rely upon the element of surprise.

Exercising Rights To Delay Senate Action Generally

Speaking at Length — In the absence of a unanimous consent agreement governing time to debate or cloture, a Senator who gets recognized to speak can speak at length.

Objecting to Routine Consent Agreements — Any Senator may object to routine unanimous consent agreements, such as those to adjourn, to recess, to approve the Journal, or to dispense with the Morning Hour.  Forcing roll-call votes on routine motions to adjourn or recess would require Senators to come to the Capitol and also prevent the Senate from taking other action during the time that it would take for Senators to come to vote.

New Legislative Day — If the Senate adjourns without a unanimous consent agreement providing for the handling of routine business at the beginning of a new legislative day, a new legislative day starts with the morning hour, a 2-hour period with a number of required procedures.  As part of the morning hour, any Senator could make a non-debatable motion to proceed to an item on the Senate calendar.

Objecting to Lifting Quorum Calls — Any Senator can object to unanimous consent to lifting a quorum call, forcing a recorded vote that would require Senators to come to the Capitol and also prevent the Senate from taking other action during the time it takes for Senators to come to vote.

Motions to Adjourn and Recess — Any Senator can move to adjourn, to adjourn to a day certain, or to take a recess.  All of these motions take precedence over a motion to proceed to the consideration of a nomination.  Senators could make a series of motions of this sort to force roll-call votes.

Layover Requirements — Senators can raise points of order if measures have not lain over sufficiently under Rule XIV or XVII.

Raising Points of Order — Any Senator who gets recognized by the Presiding Officer can raise a point of order making a procedural objection.  Once the Presiding Officer rules, a Senator can appeal the ruling of the Chair, and Senators can demand a roll-call vote.  One could imagine an extremely large number of procedural questions on which to vote.

Filing Cloture — If the Senate is not governed by a unanimous consent agreement or post cloture, a Senator who got recognized could move to proceed to a measure or series of measures and file cloture on the motion(s) to proceed.  Two days later, the Senate would be required to vote on the cloture motion(s).  The number of these motions is limited only by the number of items on the calendar.

Fast-Track Vehicles — Several fast-track statutes, including the Congressional Budget Act, the Congressional Review Act, the War Powers Act, and the Arms Export Control Act, give any Senator the right to move to proceed to a vehicle and force a roll-call vote and sometimes a period of debate. For example, any Senator could submit a concurrent resolution on the budget, and by precedent, if action has not yet been taken on a budget resolution for the coming fiscal year, then the resolution would be immediately placed on the calendar.  Once on the calendar, any Senator could move to proceed to the resolution, forcing a roll-call vote on the motion to proceed. Meanwhile, resolutions of disapproval under the CRA can be petitioned out of committee with 30 signatures after 20 calendar days. Such measures could be filed en masse now.

Utilizing Rule XIV — Any Senator can have any legislative measure placed on the calendar in two legislative days under Rule XIV.  Leader Schumer could ask every Democratic Senator to introduce bills on their favorite subjects en masse and seek to put them on the calendar via rule XIV.  Once they were on the calendar two legislative days later, if Schumer could get the floor, he could move to proceed to each in turn, file cloture, withdraw his motion to proceed, move to another, file cloture, withdraw his motion to proceed, and continue to repeat, stacking up an almost endless series of votes on motions to invoke cloture on motions to proceed to Democratic priorities, until the Majority Leader shut the Senate down.

To prevent this strategy, the Majority Leader would have to keep the Senate locked down post cloture at all times and prevent the Democratic Leader from getting recognition, or continue to recess the Senate to prevent there ever being another legislative day.  If the Majority Leader did the latter, the Democratic leader could still file serial motions to proceed to bills already on the calendar, so long as he could gain recognition to make the motions. This strategy requires there being an opportunity for motions to be made.

House Measures Requiring Senate Action

Impeachment — If the House of Representatives exercised its impeachment power, then the rules of the Senate require the Senate to immediately address that matter.

Amendments Between Houses — If the House of Representatives passed amendments to Senate-passed bills now pending in the House and sent those over to the Senate, those messages between Houses would be privileged in the Senate. Thus, in the absence of cloture or a unanimous consent agreement governing the Senate floor, a Senator could ask that such a message be laid before the Senate and make motions in connection with the message that would require immediate roll-call votes or offer a motion to concur (or concur with an amendment) and file cloture, once again forcing a roll-call vote after two days.

Short-Term Funding — The House of Representatives could insist on very short-term funding measures until the Leadership of both Houses came to agreement on proceedings for the balance of the year.  Short-term funding measures would then require more-frequent roll-call votes.

War Powers Resolutions — Generally, within a certain number of days, the Senate has to take up WPRs or any Senator can move to proceed.

There are likely additional measures available that, if passed by the House, would demand action in the Senate.

Exercising Rights in the Judiciary Committee

Time for Review and Hearing — The Judiciary Committee customarily takes time to review the record of Supreme Court nominees.  Democrats should demand that the Committee take this time before a hearing commences.

Objecting to Committees Meeting — Any Senator can object to unanimous consent for committees to meet more than two hours after the Senate convenes on a day in which the Senate is in session.

Full Hearings — Democratic Members of the Judiciary Committee could try to continue the proceedings of any hearing that the Chairman calls.

Hold Over Committee Action — Under Judiciary Committee rule I, paragraph 3, “At the request of any member . . . a . . . nomination on the agenda of the Committee may be held over until the next meeting of the Committee or for one week, whichever occurs later.” A Democratic Senator on the Judiciary Committee should demand that the nomination be held over for the week.

Denying a Quorum — Republicans need to produce the presence of a quorum of Judiciary Committee Senators to report out the nomination.  Democrats might choose not to help produce the necessary Senators.

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