In the days since President Joe Biden nominated D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, the Republican response has been unusually muted. Most discussion surrounding the nominee has lacked partisan rancor and not a single Senate Republican has yet pledged to oppose Jackson’s confirmation.
The restrained tone is likely due in part to the fact that Jackson won’t swing the ideological makeup of the court; she’s expected to fill Justice Stephen Breyer’s role in the liberal minority. And it may also be due to the fact that Democratic control of the Senate means there’s little Republicans can do to block Jackson’s confirmation.
But national politics are also clearly at play, according to multiple political strategists and current and former Congressional aides. Republicans who have pinned their hopes on reclaiming the Senate in November’s midterm elections have an interest in keeping the process low profile, in order to avoid alienating swing voters or riling liberals, which could boost Democratic turnout in November. But strategists warn that other national political considerations may still shift the tone of the discussion as the confirmation hearing, scheduled for March 21, draws closer. A handful of high-profile Republican stars on the Judiciary Committee may be looking to raise their profile before a Presidential run. In other words, how heated Jackson’s confirmation process becomes may depend largely on whether Republican Senators are thinking about 2022 or 2024.
Senate Republicans have so far been careful not to repeat such arguments, focusing instead on her professional record. “Grassley has warned Republicans to not take the bait,” says former Grassley aide Garrett Ventry, who adds that the Senator directed committee members to keep the process narrowly focused on Jackson’s judicial record, ”rather than getting into the gutter like Senate Democrats have in previous confirmation hearings.”
In a meeting with Judge Jackson on Wednesday, Grassley told Jackson directly that he planned to keep the process professional and collegial, a source familiar with the meeting tells TIME.
Grassley also warned his fellow Republicans to avoid coming out in opposition to Jackson before the hearings even began, Ventry says. Senate Democrats looked “unreasonable” when they almost instantaneously opposed Trump nominees, Ventry says.
Grassley “saw what happened with the Kavanaugh hearings,” says Mike Davis, who served as chief nominations counsel when Grassley chaired the Judiciary Committee during the Trump Administration. Democrats lost four incumbent Senate seats, Davis says, during a year that was expected to be a “blue wave.” This election cycle, forecasters predict a “red wave” of the GOP taking both the House and the Senate.
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