The Case for DonnellyPosted on: August 12, 2018, by : Jeff Turner
By Jeff Turner
I feel the need to write this now because I have noticed a great many statements from those on the left, progressives, who are being very critical of Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, who is running for reelection in November. Some are even saying that they’ll refuse to vote for him should he vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. The timing of Kennedy’s retirement, and the fact that confirmation hearings for Kavanaugh are slated to begin in early September, two months before the midterm elections, make it clear that this is a political move aimed to put pressure on red state Democrats like Donnelly, getting them to vote for Kavanaugh at the expense of alienating and infuriating their Democratic bases. Regardless of how Donnelly votes, the fact of the matter is that Indiana needs Joe Donnelly, and Hoosiers need to get out and vote for him in November, especially the progressives.
Joe Donnelly is considered to be one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats in the country of those up for reelection according to many sources, including the Cook Political Report. A great many progressives have been vocal about their dissatisfaction with Donnelly’s voting record, labelling him a “DINO” (Democrat in name only), and as stated before many say they won’t even vote for him. But Donnelly is the only Democrat to hold statewide office in Indiana. If these same progressives would like to see the Democrats win back the Senate in November (and block future SCOTUS and judicial picks from the Trump Administration), then they need to save these criticisms until after the election.
Senator Donnelly is a moderate, not a conservative. And he is walking a political tightrope right now. The reason for some of his recent votes is most likely that he is listening to his consultants, who are looking at polling data on policy. Indiana is a red state. Senator Donnelly is obviously aware of this, as he does have a record of bipartisanship.
The Senator that Donnelly replaced, Richard Lugar, a Republican, also had a record of bipartisanship in Washington. While he did vote for both of former President George W. Bush’s SCOTUS nominees (Roberts and Alito), he also voted for both of former President Obama’s (Sotomayor and Kagan). Republicans in Indiana during the Tea Party heyday decried Lugar as a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) and during the primaries chose the ideologue, Tea Party backed Richard Mourdock over the more qualified Lugar. Donnelly probably would have lost in 2012 had he faced off against Lugar, given that many Hoosier Democrats would often cross party lines to vote for the former Republican Senator. They did this because Lugar would advocate for Hoosier interests, maintaining a bipartisan record, and not just providing any President with a “rubber stamp,” as Donnelly’s GOP challenger Mike Braun will undoubtedly do for Trump.
No, I am not happy about Donnelly voting to confirm Gorsuch in 2017, or the fact that he will likely vote to confirm Kavanaugh. But Republicans hold a majority in the Senate, and there were no defections on the confirmation of Gorsuch. I find it highly unlikely that any will defect and vote against Kavanaugh. If there were a real chance of Kavanaugh losing a confirmation vote, then Donnelly probably would vote against nominating him. He did this when it came to Betsy DeVos’ nomination for Secretary of Education.
But for these same progressives angered by the Senator’s moderate voting record, I have this question. Do you think Donnelly would have voted to confirm former President Obama’s SCOTUS pick, Merrick Garland, had the Republicans not denied him confirmation hearings? I’m fairly certain that he would have. Garland was a qualified appellate court judge with an impeccable record. There would have been no reason to vote against him. Ultimately, we’ll never know.
According to the Congressional Quarterly (CQ), Donnelly did vote with President Trump 62% of the time in 2017 (on bills that Trump voiced his support for). But he still votes with the Democrats on key legislation. He voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act both times. He voted against the extravagant GOP tax cut that only benefited corporations and the richest 1% in this country. He has a proven track record of bipartisanship, which many Hoosiers do recognize.
Is Donnelly as liberal as I would like? No. But look at his opponent, Mike Braun, a wealthy millionaire with no experience in Washington, a relative political novice. We need a qualified Senator right now, one with a proven bipartisan record, willing to reach out across party lines in the highly-polarized country we currently live in.
Braun has given no indications that he will be anything but a rubber stamp for whatever bills the GOP-led Congress puts out and that Mr. Trump announces his support for, no matter how destructive they may be for the country as a whole.
Joe Donnelly has proven that he has the best interests of Hoosiers, his constituents, at heart. That is why progressives need to support him in November. If Donnelly manages to defeat Braun in the upcoming midterm, and the other red state Democrats survive their reelection bids, then Democrats will likely regain control of the Senate should they pick up two Senate seats (Arizona and Nevada are looking like they will elect Democrats and Beto O’Rourke actually does have a shot at defeating Ted Cruz in deep red Texas), they can block future SCOTUS and judicial picks put forward by the Trump Administration. And control of the Senate may well come down to whether or not Joe Donnelly manages to prevail in his reelection bid here in Indiana.
Indiana needs a Senator who has experience in Washington, one with a proven track record. So get and vote, knock on doors, make calls, canvas, but please save the harsher criticisms until after Donnelly has secured a second term. There is too much at stake right now.
Indiana needs Joe Donnelly.