In Supreme Court fight, Dems target 2 GOP Senate moderates

WASHINGTON (AP) — By themselves, Democrats can't stop the Republican-run Senate from confirming President Donald Trump's pick for the Supreme Court. But they're determined to make it agonizing for a pair of pivotal GOP senators to back the nominee.

Just a weekend from Trump's big reveal on Monday, Democrats' early strategy is to cast the battle as either protecting the right to abortion and the 2010 health care law, or emasculating both. Citing Trump's views on the issues, they say the latter is exactly what Trump's selection would inevitably do.

The hope, widely viewed as a longshot, is to pressure GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine or Alaska's Lisa Murkowski to vote "no." Neither faces re-election this year, but both are centrists who've backed abortion rights and helped block their party's 2017 drive to repeal former President Barack Obama's health care statute.

If either flips, the nominee's fate will be in Democrats' hands. Republicans control the chamber 51-49, but Sen. John McCain's absence as he battles cancer has pared that edge to 50-49, making every GOP vote decisive.

The pressure on Collins and Murkowski is just starting. Demand Justice, a new group helping coordinate liberal opposition to the pick, has started airing ads in Maine and Alaska, part of $5 million it plans to spend nationally during the campaign.

"Why won't she rule out voting for Trump's anti-choice picks?" both spots ask.

A Republican defection would turn the tables and focus attention on three Democrats seeking re-election in states that gave Trump landslides in 2016: Indiana's Joe Donnelly, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and North Dakotan Heidi Heitkamp.

If Republicans have the votes to prevail, some Democrats looking ahead to November's elections for congressional control want to give the three moderates room to stray if they so decide.

"There's a reason we still have the ACA, OK?" Jim Kessler, vice president of Third Way, the centrist Democratic group, said of Obama's Affordable Care Act, which the Senate narrowly blocked Trump from dismantling last year. "And that's because we have these senators."

But the three moderates' decisions about voting would be far more fraught if the nominee's fate is in the balance. They'd face enormous pressure from the party's liberal base and probably Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

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