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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight Hillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans On The Money: Trump 'ready' for tariffs on all 0B in Chinese goods | Trump digs in on Fed criticism | Lawmakers drop plans to challenge Trump ZTE deal MORE (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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerData confirm that marijuana decriminalization is long overdue Pollster: Kavanaugh will get Dem votes Democrats slam Trump for considering Putin’s ’absurd’ request to question Americans MORE (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 ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPollster: Kavanaugh will get Dem votes Overnight Health Care: Trump officials explore importing prescription drugs | Key ObamaCare, drug pricing regs under review | GOP looks to blunt attacks on rising premiums | Merck to lower some drug prices Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions MORE (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 CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials MORE (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 McCainJohn Sidney McCainObama, Bush veterans dismiss Trump-Putin interpreter subpoena Controversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Trump vows to hold second meeting with Putin MORE (Ariz.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Russia furor grips Washington Overnight Health Care: Novartis pulls back on drug price hikes | House Dems launch Medicare for All caucus | Trump officials pushing ahead on Medicaid work requirements Senate panel to vote next week on banning 'gag clauses' in pharmacy contracts MORE (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 GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamQuestions mount over Trump-Putin discussions The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Overnight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria MORE (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 HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPolling analyst: Same Dems who voted for Gorsuch will vote for Kavanaugh Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas MORE (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 LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Budget chairs press appropriators on veterans spending Kavanaugh paper chase heats up MORE (Vt.) and Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenate panel advances Trump IRS nominee Juan Williams: Putin wins as GOP spins Senate passes resolution honoring victims of Capital Gazette shooting MORE (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 CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits MORE (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, warning them both not to support 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.

The group also asked their supporters to contact Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowLobbying world The Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments Dem senator: Kavanaugh sides with 'wealthiest special interests' MORE and Gary Peters — who have both announced their opposition to Gorsuch — to thank them and "and tell them we'll get their back if they filibuster Trump's Supreme Court nominee."

- This story was updated at 10:26 a.m.