Gorsuch’s High Court Bid Gets Tense Partisan Reception in Senate

  • So far, few Democrats have agreed to meet with Gorsuch
  • Republicans Graham, Cornyn and others are early supporters

Filling a U.S. Supreme Court Seat: Charlie Rose

Senate Democrats spent nearly a year imploring Republicans to “do your job” and confirm President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Now, the GOP is turning that message back around to Democrats.

While Republicans hold a 52-seat majority, they still need eight Democrats to confirm Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to the high court, unless they take the controversial step of changing long-held Senate rules.

So far, Senate Democrats are taking a largely hands-off approach to Gorsuch, even as Republicans mount an aggressive push to confirm him.

Joe Manchin of West Virginia is the only Democrat who met with Gorsuch this week, while Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, is scheduled to meet with him Monday afternoon.

The Gorsuch fight comes as Democrats launched a series of delaying tactics over confirmations of Trump’s Cabinet, even though Senate rules make it difficult for them to block those nominees. Two weeks into Trump’s presidency, only six Cabinet-level officials have been confirmed, with Democrats blasting a number of Trump picks over policy and ethics questions.

Gorsuch held a whirlwind of meetings this week with Republicans who pledged their full support, including Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, John Cornyn of Texas, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

“I will vote for him, I’m not trying to play a game here,” Graham said after the two met for about 15 minutes Thursday. He said he’s known Gorsuch from an earlier tenure at the Justice Department and has no doubt that Trump’s “great pick” is qualified to join the high court.

Senate Outlook for Supreme Court Confirmation: BGOV OnPoint

The confirmation is already shaping into a bitter partisan battle, with Democrats under intense pressure from outside groups, including People for the American Way, to block a 49-year-old nominee who could over decades leave a stamp on decisions affecting abortion rights, corporate law and the environment. 

Senate Democrats almost unanimously expressed their disgust this week at the GOP’s treatment of Merrick Garland, who Obama nominated in March to replace Scalia and never got a hearing as Republicans insisted the seat must be filled by the next president.

Democratic leaders are still navigating the question of just how hard to fight a replacement for a justice from the court’s conservative wing, given the potential for other vacancies during Trump’s four-year term. Three other justices -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer -- are at least 78.

Trump this week urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “go nuclear" and change Senate rules to require only 51 votes to confirm Gorsuch if Democrats try to filibuster. McConnell, who has said he would prefer not to do that, has been careful and spent the week emphasizing Gorsuch’s qualifications.

“If the nominee was so noncontroversial in 2006 that a roll call vote wasn’t even required, what could possibly have changed since to justify threats of extraordinary treatment now?” McConnell of Kentucky asked on the Senate floor. He was referring to Gorsuch’s earlier confirmation as an appeals court judge.

60 Votes

Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer said Democrats won’t let Gorsuch win approval without the backing of 60 senators. Republicans control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats.

“If the nominee cannot gain the 60 votes, cannot garner bipartisan support of some significance, then the answer is not to change the rules,” said Schumer of New York. “The answer is to change the nominee and find someone who can gain those 60 votes.”

As the quest for support continues, much of the focus is on 10 Senate Democrats from states that Trump won last year who will be on the ballot in 2018.

“We have to have a few Trump-state Democrats who want to win re-election,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday.

‘Impeccable Resume’

Manchin, one of those senators, said this week he hasn’t decided how he’ll vote but that he’s open-minded.

“I know by reading the judge’s resume and he has an impeccable resume and I’m just getting to know more about his philosophy on different things,” Manchin said immediately before he and Gorsuch met.

A number of Democratic senators say they’ll talk privately with Gorsuch in coming weeks, including former Judiciary panel chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Senator Jon Tester of Montana.

About half a dozen Senate Democrats already oppose him, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Brown said Friday that he’s opposed because his review of Gorsuch’s decisions convinced the senator that the judge would be prone to side with corporations over consumers. The treatment of Garland has nothing to do with it, he said.

“The court doesn’t need another guy on the court that’s gonna side with large corporate interests over the public time and time again,” Brown said. “That’s where my decision comes from.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, hasn’t scheduled the confirmation hearings yet. His spokesman, Beth Levine, said they will probably start in six weeks.

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