On the final day of the confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch, the Senate Democratic leader announced his opposition to the Supreme Court nominee.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Chuck Schumer said Gorsuch “will have to earn 60 votes for confirmation,” setting up a showdown with Republican leaders who may attempt to change Senate rules, reports NPR.
If Gorsuch “cannot earn 60 votes, a bar met by each of President Obama’s nominees and George Bush’s last two nominees, the answer isn’t to change the rules,” Schumer said. “It’s to change the nominee.”
The Gorsuch nomination has put Democrats in an excruciatingly difficult position. They do not have the votes to vote down the Trump nominee outright, as they are a minority in the Senate. But they are being pressed hard by liberal groups and their base to do the impossible — stop Gorsuch. The task is impossible because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear that if there is a filibuster, Republicans will change the Senate rules, just as the Democrats did for lower court judges in 2013 when they were in the majority.
Democrats are seeking a face-saving way to oppose Gorsuch, knowing they cannot defeat him. But when McConnell announced this week that he intended to get Gorsuch confirmed by the Senate’s Easter recess on April 7, that was a clock that forced the Democrats’ hand.
An April 7 deadline does not allow time for more than a few days of debate once the nomination is sent to the Senate floor after a committee vote on April 3, nor does it allow time for more than one vote to cut off debate, known as a cloture vote.
So, either the Democrats have to alienate their own base by casting enough votes to kill their own filibuster, or the likelihood is that Republicans will change the rules to get rid of the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations. And Democrats would dearly like to preserve that tool, knowing that there is a strong possibility there will be at least one more Supreme Court vacancy during the Trump presidency.
Democratic sources say the leadership would not mind losing the cloture vote, but they would have to lose eight of their 48 members to do that. In days gone by, it would have been easy for senators to say, in essence, that they will not vote to continue a filibuster, that the nominee deserves an up-or-down vote. But as one Democrat put it, “This place is so polarized right now, and our constituents are so polarized, it’s hard to sell that.”
Progressive groups have been urging Democrats to uniformly oppose all of Trump’s nominees. But several are facing tough re-election campaigns next year in states that Trump won in November. One of them, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, announced Thursday he will oppose Gorsuch, saying he does not think “Judge Gorsuch’s judicial approach will ensure fairness for workers and families in Pennsylvania.”
Democrats have expressed frustration with Gorsuch’s testimony before the Judiciary Committee, in which he sidestepped most of their questions aimed at getting a sense of how he might rule on the high court. Many are also still angry that President Obama’s nominee for the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, Judge Merrick Garland, was never given a hearing by Republicans.