Dem leaders give centrists space on Gorsuch

Senate Democratic leaders are giving centrist colleagues space on Neil Gorsuch despite strong pressure from the liberal base to sink President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone Water has experienced a decade of bipartisan success Trump vows tougher borders to fight opioid epidemic MORE (D-Ill.) says he’s not tallying votes for the nominee, leaving it to Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerConscience protections for health-care providers should be standard Pension committee must deliver on retirement promise Dem super PAC launches ad defending Donnelly on taxes MORE (N.Y.) to have one-on-one conversations with undecided members of their caucus. 

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate GOP: We will grow our majority in midterms Senate passes bipartisan bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Green Party Senate candidate was previously on state GOP payroll: report MORE (D-Mont.) said ­Schumer is giving centrists like him room to decide how to vote, mindful that 10 members of the conference face reelection in states Trump won in November.


“Schumer hasn’t said anything to me. I have not visited with Chuck,” Tester said. “There’s no whipping ­going on whatsoever — probably because he knows it probably wouldn’t do any good.”

A senior Democratic aide disputed that claim, however, insisting, “We’re whipping it.”

The aide said Schumer knows that some of the lawmakers facing reelection next year in states Trump won by double digits will likely advance Gorsuch to a final confirmation vote.

“We have eight votes to play with,” the aide said.

Republicans control 52 seats and need eight Democrats or Independents to join them to reach the 60-vote threshold for ending a filibuster. 

Earlier Wednesday, Schumer told reporters it’s unlikely Gorsuch will muster the 60 votes he needs, one day after saying he has a “real uphill climb” to even get to a final up-or-down vote.

A senior aide to a Democratic senator who is undecided on Gorsuch said he has not seen an obvious effort by Schumer to whip votes one-on-one.

The aide said Schumer is giving red-state Democrats a lot of leash because he knows he has the 41 votes he needs to block Gorsuch.

More than half the conference has come out against the nominee.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Defense: Senate sides with Trump on military role in Yemen | Dem vets push for new war authorization on Iraq anniversary | General says time isn't 'right' for space corps Senate sides with Trump on providing Saudi military support Senate GOP: We will grow our majority in midterms MORE, whose home state of West Virginia voted for Trump overwhelmingly, said Schumer has not tried to twist his arm.

“Not at all. Chuck’s been great. He knows who I am. We’ve been really good friends. He gives me his points of view, and I say it makes sense or it doesn’t,” he said.

He’s told Schumer he wants to meet with Gorsuch again before making a decision on final confirmation but has said he’ll support ending the filibuster — called cloture — on the nomination. Manchin is the first and only Democrat so far to offer to help Trump’s pick get over the 60-vote threshold.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampKoch-backed group launches six-figure ad buy against Heitkamp Overnight Defense: Senate sides with Trump on military role in Yemen | Dem vets push for new war authorization on Iraq anniversary | General says time isn't 'right' for space corps Senate sides with Trump on providing Saudi military support MORE (N.D.), another vulnerable Democrat in a state Trump won, seemed to signal Tuesday that she might vote for cloture on Gorsuch.

Durbin noted that Schumer has limited leverage with the centrist bloc of his party.

“It’s not a formal whip count, up-or-down whip count,” he said. “We’re not doing it that way.”

He said vulnerable Democrats such as Tester, Heitkamp and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillKoch-backed group launches six-figure ad buy against Heitkamp GOP Senate candidate slams McCaskill over Clinton ties Dems meddle against Illinois governor ahead of GOP primary MORE (Mo.) will have leeway to make their own decisions.

“We don’t have binding caucus positions,” he added.

Despite growing confidence among Democrats that they can block Gorsuch, a senior GOP aide counted 16 Democrats as undecided — giving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senator blocking Trump's Intel nominee Spending bill delay raises risk of partial government shutdown support GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE (R-Ky.) hope of reaching the 60-vote threshold.

Potential swing votes include Democrats from states Trump won handily, such as Tester, Heitkamp, McCaskill and Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyKoch-backed group launches six-figure ad buy against Heitkamp Overnight Defense: Senate sides with Trump on military role in Yemen | Dem vets push for new war authorization on Iraq anniversary | General says time isn't 'right' for space corps Senate sides with Trump on providing Saudi military support MORE (Ind.). They also include Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinWhat’s genius for Obama is scandal when it comes to Trump Coalition presses Transportation Dept. for stricter oversight of driverless cars Saudi energy deal push sparks nuclear weapon concerns MORE (Calif.), the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee; Michael BennetMichael Farrand Bennet2020 Dems unify around assault weapons ban, putting pressure on colleagues McConnell, Schumer tap colleagues to explore budget reform Democrats march toward single-payer health care MORE (Colo.), who represents Gorsuch’s home state and introduced him at his confirmation hearings; Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Cybersecurity: Senate Intel releases election security findings | Facebook to meet with officials on Capitol Hill amid Cambridge Analytica fallout | Orbitz admits possible breach Facebook to meet with officials on Capitol Hill amidst Cambridge Analytica fallout Senate Intel releases summary of election security report MORE (Va.), a centrist with a record of working with the GOP; and Angus KingAngus Stanley KingLindsey Graham: Trump firing Mueller would 'probably' be impeachable offense Angus King: McCabe firing seemed 'mean-spirited' With bills on the table, Congress must heed the call to fix our national parks MORE, an Independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats but praised Gorsuch’s record as “exceedingly independent.”

Two more Democrats, Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineBill to bolster gun background checks gains enough support to break filibuster Senators demand cyber deterrence strategy from Trump Two-year defense spending smooths the way to a ready military MORE (Va.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate Intel releases summary of election security report Revisiting America’s torture legacy Dems release interactive maps to make case against GOP tax law MORE (N.M.), came out against Gorsuch on Wednesday and also said they won’t vote to advance him to a final vote.

Kaine said Gorsuch showed “selective activism in restricting women’s rights” during his tenure on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, while Heinrich voiced concern over the judge’s “record of siding with large corporations over the rights of individuals.”

Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellOvernight Energy: EPA plans to restrict use of science data for regs | Pruitt's Italy trip cost more than K | Perry insists he's staying at Energy Oregon governor says Zinke told her offshore drilling isn’t ‘lucrative’ there Overnight Energy: Zinke grilled on travel, offshore drilling plans | Pruitt says California can't dictate emissions standard | Dems sound off on elephant trophy policy MORE (Wash.), who supported ending a filibuster of conservative Justice Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2006, met with Gorsuch Wednesday and plans to announce her decision soon. 

Senate Republicans have accused Schumer of breaking Senate tradition by filibustering a Supreme Court nomination, something that happened successfully only once in history, when a bipartisan group of senators blocked the nomination of Abe Fortas to serve as chief justice in 1968.

A senior Republican called Schumer’s action “completely irresponsible.”

But Democrats counter that Republicans broke 230 years of precedent by refusing to give President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing or a vote for nearly 10 months.

In fact, Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperWarren turns focus to Kushner’s loans Overnight Energy: Dems probe EPA security contract | GAO expands inquiry into EPA advisory boards | Dems want more time to comment on drilling plan Overnight Regulation: Senate takes first step to passing Dodd-Frank rollback | House passes bill requiring frequent reviews of financial regs | Conservatives want new checks on IRS rules MORE (D-Del.) said he’ll “oppose Judge Gorsuch’s nomination until we find agreement on moving Judge Garland’s nomination forward at the same time.”

Schumer has come under heavy pressure from the liberal base to put up a stiff fight against Gorsuch.

An estimated 3,000 protesters gathered outside his apartment in Brooklyn on the same day Trump announced the nominee. 

A senior Democratic aide said it must have been a “jarring” experience for Schumer, who is used to being treated as a hero in his home state and who won reelection last year with 70 percent of the vote. 

But with Senate Republicans threatening to change the filibuster rules, some Democrats privately argue it would be smarter for Schumer to allow centrist colleagues to vote for Gorsuch now in hopes of saving the procedural block for a second Supreme Court seat that might become vacant under Trump. 

They argue the stakes would be higher if a liberal justice such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 84, or Stephen Breyer, 78, retired or fell ill. 

Schumer countered that argument on Wednesday, saying the fight over Gorsuch is as important as any down the road. 

“We believe that there are Republicans that are reluctant to change the rules,” he said. “We hope they won’t do it.”

“If they’re going to change the rules on this one, why wouldn’t they change them on the next one afterwards anyway?” he added.