Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Another Big Fight Coming
Senate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight
Senators in both parties are gearing up for a showdown over Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) confidently predicted on Tuesday that the Senate would confirm Gorsuch on April 7, before lawmakers leave town for a two-week recess.
But as Democratic opposition grows, leaders are signaling they’re prepared to push the chamber to the edge as President Trump’s pick comes up for a vote — even if it means using the “nuclear option” to change the Senate’s rules.
“We’re going to get Judge Gorsuch confirmed,” McConnell told reporters during a weekly press conference. “It’ll be an opportunity for the Democrats to invoke cloture. We’ll see where that ends.”
Pressed on if he would have the votes within his conference should Democrats initially block Gorsuch’s nomination, McConnell said he was “confident” the judge will join the Supreme Court.
But Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) returned his own rhetorical fire, arguing that Gorsuch faces a heavy lift to get the 60 votes — including the support of at least eight Democratic senators — he will need to avoid a filibuster.
“It’s going to be a real uphill climb for him to get those 60 votes,” Schumer told reporters.
Facing a mountain of pressure from progressive groups, a growing number of Democrats are coming out against Gorsuch’s nomination.
As of Tuesday evening more than half of the conference has announced opposition. So far, only one senator — Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — has explicitly said he’ll vote for cloture.
If Republicans can’t get enough Democratic support for Gorsuch’s nomination, they could go nuclear and get rid of the 60-vote filibuster on Supreme Court nominees.
McConnell would need 50 members of his conference to back the change, allowing him to lose two GOP senators and bring in Vice President Pence to break a tie.
No Republican has yet said they wouldn’t support a rules change if Democrats block Gorsuch’s nomination, but a growing number of GOP senators are urging their colleagues to find a way to avoid that fight.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) took to the Senate floor on Tuesday, pleading with his colleagues to talk to each other and find agreement.
“I hope somehow or another we’ll have the ability to avoid what I see as something that’s very, very detrimental to the United States, and in the process very detrimental to our country,” he said.
Corker added that unless senators are able to avoid going nuclear, the Senate will eventually turn into a “six-year House term.”
Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Susan Collins (Maine) are also walking a fine line, refusing to either implicitly support or directly rule out using the nuclear option if Democrats block Gorsuch’s nomination.
“I really hope that it doesn’t come to that,” Collins told reporters. “I don’t want to change the rules and the Senate, and I hope we’re not confronted with that choice.”
It wouldn’t be the first time the Senate nearly went nuclear only to back down. In 2005, the bipartisan “Gang of 14” reached a deal to avoid getting rid of the filibuster on all judicial nominations in return for Democrats limiting which nominees they would try to block.
Collins, McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are the only three members of the group left in the Senate.
Manchin, who is up for reelection in a state that Trump won by more than 40 points, signaled on Tuesday that he’s huddling with colleagues about how to preserve the 60-vote procedural threshold for Supreme Court nominees.
“I want to make sure I’m talking to my colleagues and everything and see if we can get to a point where we can prevent from going to, basically a blow up, if you will, the nuclear option,” he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday.
A spokesman for Manchin confirmed that the red-state lawmaker will help get Gorsuch’s nomination over the procedural threshold.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said separately that Gorsuch should get an “up-or-down vote” but didn’t specifically say she would vote for cloture. She remains undecided on a final vote on his nomination.
“I’m in the process of reviewing the materials he submitted and testimony from his hearing before the Judiciary Committee while I continue to consider his nomination,” she said.
More mainstream Democrats, including Sens. Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Ben Cardin (Md.), are hinting that they would also like to avoid a fight over the nuclear option.
Leahy, a former Judiciary Committee chairman, told a Vermont publication that he isn’t “inclined to filibuster” Gorsuch, but later appeared to walk back his comments.
“Unless #JudgeGorsuch provides REAL answers to written Qs & senators are given ample time for review & debate, he will be filibustered,” he wrote on Twitter.
Cardin said on Tuesday he would vote against Gorsuch’s confirmation but left the door open to helping him overcome the 60-vote procedural hurdle.
“I want to see what accommodations are made,” he said when asked if his opposition to Gorsuch also meant he would vote no on cloture.
He recommended that Schumer and McConnell get together and talk.
Republican leaders haven’t specifically said they would go nuclear on Gorsuch, but they’ve begun to lay the rhetorical groundwork for the decision by accusing Democrats of abusing their power.
“What our colleagues are doing are basically saying that no nominee of President Trump or any Republican nominee is going to get confirmed to the Supreme Court because they are going to require 60 votes to do so,” charged Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “This would be unprecedented in our nation’s history.”
Democrats are facing a mountain of pressure from both sides over Gorsuch’s nomination: outside GOP groups are pouring in millions of dollars, while progressive groups charge that supporting Gorsuch would be on par with enabling Trump.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is asking its members to target Leahy over his “squishy” comments, as well as Manchin and Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, warning them against supporting cloture on Gorsuch.
“Voting against the filibuster is the same as voting for Gorsuch. Republicans can easily win a confirmation vote that only takes 50 votes to win. But getting the 60 votes to break the filibuster would be much harder,” they wrote in their email to supporters.
Peters and Stabenow have both announced their opposition to Gorsuch.