The Left's Political Strategy Now
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The resignation of Justice Anthony Kennedy has set off a political struggle even before President Trump has selected a nominee who will have to go through hearings and Senate confirmation. We will cover all sides of that debate. But right now, for some insight into strategies from the left, we'll turn to Brian Fallon, executive director of the group Demand Justice. Mr. Fallon served as press secretary for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. Mr. Fallon, thanks so much for being with us.
BRIAN FALLON: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: Fifty-one Republicans in the Senate; do you accept they can confirm almost anyone they want to?
FALLON: We do not. We see a path to blocking Trump's nominee if we can successfully unite all of the Democrats in the Senate. And then it's a matter of peeling two, or maybe even just one - you know, the health of Senator McCain is a question in terms of whether he'd be present for a vote. So it's a narrow path, yes. And the odds are in the Senate Republicans favor of being able to push through somebody. But, you know, Donald Trump in - during the campaign, he issued some litmus tests and said that there were going to be some specific criteria for anyone he would nominate. And some of those criteria run afoul of the positions of even some Senate Republican moderates.
SIMON: Well, let me ask you - I mean, do you have the Democrats all locked up?
FALLON: I think that the five senators that visited the White House this week - three of them Democrats, two of them Republicans - are the key five senators to watch in terms of the success of any confirmation. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota - all of them are red state Democrats that are in cycle in states that Trump won. So, yes, we know that we're going to have to convince those Democrats to hold the line; and then on the Republican side, Senator Murkowski of Alaska and Senator Collins of Maine.
On the Democratic side, I think that the case that we're going to make to those red state moderates is, you know, what? Donald Trump has said that he will appoint people that will gut the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare. And so to the extent that a nominee that Donald Trump names might hear another challenge to the Affordable Care Act and perhaps vote to gut the law, that is going to be an issue that we raise to try to urge those senators to vote against Trump's pick.
SIMON: Mr. Fallon, I have to ask you - aren't we often reminded in real life that justices on the Supreme Court don't always vote the way they were expected to?
FALLON: You're right that that used to be the phenomenon. But on the far right, a lot of conservatives slap themselves on the forehead based on nominees like David Souter that go on to surprise them with the decisions that they issue. And so they've taken very careful steps in recent years and even took the unprecedented step of having Donald Trump, the presidential candidate, issue a short list so he could reassure conservatives that the type of people he would choose from would all be people that would meet their rigid, ideological litmus tests.
SIMON: Mr. Fallon, I know the stakes for this are real, but all that being said, is this really a fight for the midterm elections in terms of organizing and raising money and interest level?
FALLON: No. This is a fight for the soul of the country. The left after for years being complacent when it comes to the courts - for years, there's been a complete asymmetry in the amount of attention and political resources that get expended over the types of people that get nominated to the federal courts. The political right has cared far longer about these issues. But I think right now, in this moment, progressives are waking up to the fact that if we don't stand up and fight this fight in the next three months, we could lose the court for a generation.
And so I think that you're going to see progressives rally and fight this fight in the here and now, not to achieve some kind of political upper hand in the midterms but just to try to protect the gains that we've made over the last couple decades that all would be wiped out if Trump succeeds in putting his pick on the Supreme Court.
SIMON: Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice, thanks so much.
FALLON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.