Bernie Sanders: Supreme Court fight won't be won in Washington

Complaining is a 'dead end' for Democrats

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

(CNN) - Complaining about the process or Republican tactics is a dead end for Democrats fighting to block Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation, Sen. Bernie Sanders argued on Thursday, as he prepared to hit the road and rally opposition to President Donald Trump's second nominee in less than two years.

"This is political," the Vermont independent, who caucuses with Senate Democrats and ran for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, said in an interview. "If you're concerned about women's rights and you're concerned about health care, the environment, (you need to) understand that the majority of this Supreme Court is about is working for the wealthy and the powerful against the needs of ordinary Americans."

But if the confirmation debate becomes an argument over manners or how Republicans maneuvered to get to this point, Sanders suggested, the public -- which he believes is mostly detached from Supreme Court-related jousting -- will switch off.

"The point now is to make people understand the real-life consequences of these decisions," he said. "I think if you frame it like that, you will be successful."

With confirmation hearings creeping up faster than Democrats might hope, the party and its progressive allies -- stung and, initially, frozen in the aftermath of the announcement that swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy would retire -- are beginning to make clear their strategy to muddy up Kavanaugh.

It looks a lot like what they were doing this time last year. In the spring and summer of 2017, Democrats in Congress and progressive activists rallied opposition to the GOP plan to gut Obamacare, eventually creating enough of a backlash that, after months of protests, Republicans in the Senate fell short of delivering the long-promised overhaul.

This is an election year, and Democratic senators facing GOP challengers in red states are no sure bet to oppose Kavanaugh. Still, Sanders said he was confident that Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was committed to -- and capable of -- keeping the caucus united, citing the New Yorker's work during previous high-stakes, high-profile fights.

"He has a surprisingly good record in that regard," Sanders said. "You would not have predicted that on the tax bill and the (Obamacare) effort that that was possible, to keep all Democrats together, and he did. That's a pretty good record."

Defeating Kavanaugh's nomination would be an even more significant victory and -- given what appears to be a unified Republican Senate majority -- much less likely.

Sanders will speak at a pair of rallies with Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who's now a candidate for state attorney general, on Friday before spending Saturday in Wisconsin with Sen. Tammy Baldwin and, that evening, House candidate Randy Bryce. Sanders will wind up the weekend in Pennsylvania at the American Federation of Teachers convention and an event with Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.

As he stands alongside that handful of Democrats on the ballot this year, Sanders will argue that victory this summer, and in the fall midterms, will require a pointed argument against the political implications of Kavanaugh's confirmation -- a focus on what it means for abortion rights, Obamacare and the dwindling prospect of campaign finance revisions.

"Anybody who thinks that (Kavanaugh) is some kind of objective guy who's going to come on and look at each of the cases objectively -- I don't think that's the situation today. I don't think that's what Donald Trump thinks," Sanders said, arguing that the traditional deference, the tap-dancing around the edges of the nominee's politics, would amount to surrender at this stage.

"Trump campaigned and said, among other things, I will appoint pro-life candidates and, in so many words, implied that he wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade. Trump lies a whole lot but on this one he is probably right."

Kavanaugh, in his previous court rulings, has steered clear, if only just, of offering clear insight into his views about abortion, but experts generally rate him as more conservative than all but Justice Clarence Thomas among the court's current occupants.

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