As Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah addressed the conservative Federalist Society luncheon on Friday at a Chinatown restaurant, young protesters from the liberal group Generation Progress suddenly broke into loud chants of “Do your job,” disrupting the staid legal discussion.
On Sunday in Iowa, outside courthouses in Waterloo and Des Moines, activists from the progressive organization Why Courts Matter Iowa hammered Senator Charles E. Grassley with made-for-media protests in which participants shouted, “Hey, Chuck, do your job.”
Those protests aimed at the two most senior Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with more than 40 similar events around the country in the last week, provide clear evidence of the emerging Democratic strategy to break the Senate Republican blockade against President Obama’s forthcoming nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Democrats intend to try to make life as miserable as possible for Senate Republicans — particularly those on the Judiciary Committee or up for re-election in November — both back home and in Washington until they relent and agree to take up the nomination.
“Senate Republicans who refuse to do their jobs are already seeing the consequences of their inaction,” said Amy Brundage, a former White House deputy communications director who is coordinating communications around the court campaign. “Hardworking Americans don’t get to choose to stop doing their jobs. So we will continue to put pressure on Senate Republicans back home and force them to explain why they won’t fulfill their constitutional responsibility to their voters and constituents.”
The tone and frequency of the organized activities against Republicans — news conferences, petitions, protests at offices, letter-writing campaigns, rallies — is only going to escalate once President Obama announces his choice and puts a face on a fight that now focuses mainly on the Senate process of considering a nominee.
Democratic strategists believe that if they can make Senate Republicans squirm as they are forced to constantly defend the party’s stance, those Republicans will in turn lean on the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to back off his blanket refusal to allow a confirmation hearing.
The way Democrats believe they can best make their point is to have activists do whatever they can to get under the skin of senators like Mr. Grassley, the Judiciary Committee chairman who is getting some of the worst Iowa press coverage of his long career because of his now almost daily declaration that he has no intention of considering Mr. Obama’s choice for the court.
Mr. Grassley, who is up for re-election this year, is a particular target of Democrats who see him as a potential weak link in the Republican chain of resistance. But they also plan to be relentless against other Republican senators facing tough re-election fights, including Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Videos show that the protest at the Hatch luncheon at Tony Cheng’s restaurant seemed to catch the usually button-down crowd by surprise as the activists began shouting and holding up yellow placards that said, “Fill the Supreme Court Vacancy.” Angry members of the otherwise conservative audience began yelling for the activists to be removed, and they were eventually ushered out after a few minutes. An organizer of the lunch drew applause when he thanked the protesters for paying the $20 fee.
“I don’t mind protesters speaking their minds, but I don’t appreciate when they try to prevent others from expressing differing views,” Mr. Hatch, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Monday in a statement. “That a respectful discussion among attorneys was disrupted by professional activists wielding materials from Organizing for Action — a political arm of the White House and the Democratic National Committee — demonstrates what I’ve been saying all along: Considering a nominee in the midst of a presidential election campaign would further inject toxic political theater into an already politicized confirmation process.”
Republicans are developing their own strategy for combating the Democrats and have stressed their message that Democrats should let voters decide the makeup of the court through their vote for president. A conservative activist group has already begun airing ads critical of potential nominees.
Mr. Hatch touched on what some Republicans consider to be a risk for Democrats — and an advantage for them: Democrats may press their case too hard. Republicans will try to paint the protests as a left-wing effort to place a liberal on the court to replace Mr. Scalia, a conservative icon. And they will accuse the White House of using the court fight mainly to stir up Democratic voters in advance of the election, noting that efforts against Republicans are being coordinated by former senior White House and Obama campaign aides.
“I am resolved to prevent what should be serious consideration of a weighty lifetime appointment from turning into an election-year political circus, as many on the left seem to want,” Mr. Hatch said.
Democrats aren’t worried about the pushback. They note that national surveys show that the American public is already on their side and that their task now is to make Republican realize their resistance is politically untenable.
They have work to do if Mr. Hatch is any example. He seemed to take the protest in stride and even autographed one of the placards left behind for a luncheon guest. He told the audience that he is accustomed to such tense fights over the court and can take it. Democratic groups intend to put that proposition to the test for Mr. Hatch and his Senate colleagues.