Democrats lost the presidency to Donald Trump. They have no congressional majority. They have been getting drubbed in state governments for years. And now they are staring straight down the barrel of a 5-to-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, unless something huge changes in the next couple of weeks.
That is the backdrop against which we get the Feinstein letter.
Senate Judiciary Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on that panel, on Thursday offered a rather cryptic disclosure. In a statement, Feinstein said she received a letter about Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh from an unnamed person who does not want to come forward and that she referred the matter to the FBI. We have since learned only that it has to do with an episode of alleged sexual misconduct in high school somehow involving Kavanaugh.
It looks a lot like a last-ditch Hail Mary from a Democratic Party that has lost just about all hope of stopping Kavanaugh’s nomination. It also has all the makings of a Democratic Party that is anxious to shed decorum and play by President Trump’s rules.
Not that the Hail Mary necessarily came from Feinstein herself. Somebody leaked to The Intercept on Wednesday about alleged consternation on the Judiciary Committee regarding Feinstein’s failure to share the letter. That story appears to have forced the hand of senior Democrats, including Feinstein and Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), to address the matter. And that, in turn, meant it could not be totally ignored.
At this point, it’s also pretty pure innuendo -- from a party that is otherwise running out of options.
Committee members on Thursday delayed Kavanaugh’s committee vote by one week. From there, it is up to the majority Republicans how quickly Kavanaugh gets confirmed. On top of that, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key swing vote, appears unconvinced by the arguments against Kavanaugh, and a key red-state Democrat, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), on Wednesday signaled she sees little reason to vote against him thus far.
No big-name Democrats have blatantly used the letter to try to change the fundamentals of this nomination. But they might be tempted to, thanks to a base that is eager for a fight. Whoever leaked this information must have known they were at least forcing that conversation and hoped that a Democratic senator (perhaps one with 2020 aspirations) might lead the charge.
But we have also seen Democrats step up to that fight and come up well short. Before the hearings, Democrats briefly made a bogus claim that Republicans said there should be no Supreme Court confirmations in election years (it was only in presidential election years). During the hearings and afterward, Democrats' main attack on Kavanaugh was taking a quote about “abortion-inducing drugs" out of context. Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) self-proclaimed “I am Spartacus” moment felt as forced as you’d expect from someone declaring his own “I am Spartacus" moment.
Through it all, Democrats have been grasping at straws to stop Kavanaugh -- or at least to convince their base (and 2020 voters) that they are doing everything to try. It is possible we could soon know more about this letter, and it is even possible there is something legitimate in it, but absent something concrete to go on, there is little reason to believe this will affect the outcome or even delay it.