Senate Democrats have indicated that they may filibuster the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, setting up a showdown on Capitol Hill that could ultimately lead to a massive overhaul in Senate rules.
Chuck Schumer, Senate minority leader, said on the Senate floor on Tuesday that he would not vote to confirm Mr Gorsuch, making clear that Republicans would need to find eight Democratic votes to push Mr Gorsuch’s nomination through — or else change Senate rules so Supreme Court nominees can be confirmed with a simple majority.
“My vote will be ‘no’. And I urge my colleagues to do the same,” Mr Schumer said.
He added: “To my Republican friends who think if Judge Gorsuch fails, we ought to change the rules, I say: if this nominee 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. It’s to change the nominee.”
Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate while Democrats have 46. While a few moderate Democrats may be inclined to confirm Mr Gorsuch, it is possible that Republicans would not have the 60 votes, forcing them to decide whether to get rid of the filibuster. Doing that would allow them to easily push through Mr Gorsuch’s appointment but could come back to haunt them if and when they find themselves again in the minority.
Mr Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s pick for the vacant Supreme Court seat, has had a relatively smooth and low-key nomination hearing before the Senate judiciary committee this week, with no major gaffes or slip-ups. But Mr Schumer said he had been disappointed by Mr Gorsuch’s refusal to share his views on specific legal cases.
Mr Schumer accused the Denver-based federal appellate judge of not providing answers of “any substance” and warned that Mr Gorsuch was “not a neutral legal mind but someone with a deep-seated conservative ideology”.
“Judge Gorsuch was unable to sufficiently convince me that he’d be an independent check on a president who has shown almost no restraint from executive over-reach,” Mr Schumer said.
Mr Schumer is not the only senator to announce plans to block Mr Gorsuch. Bernie Sanders said on Thursday that he would oppose the judge’s nomination, while more moderate senators, including Robert Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania who is facing re-election next year, have also said they will oppose him.
For senators such as Mr Casey, the considerations are twofold. On the one hand, they are facing pressure from liberal constituents who want Democratic lawmakers to oppose Mr Trump and Republicans on all fronts.
Democratic constituents and their representatives also remain angry that Republicans refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated by Mr Obama to the Supreme Court after the death of Antonin Scalia left a vacant seat.
On the other hand, many Democratic senators up for re-election next year will be competing in states that Mr Trump won in 2016. Among them are; Bill Nelson of Florida; Joe Donnelly of Indiana; Claire McCaskill of Missouri; Jon Tester of Montana; Joe Manchin of West Virginia; and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
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