Dems force Senate 'nuclear' showdown

Dems force Senate 'nuclear' showdown
© Greg Nash

The Senate is on the brink of a historic meltdown over President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court that would pave the way for his confirmation and move the body a step closer to completely doing away with the ­filibuster.

Democrats on Monday showed they have more than the 41 votes they need to sustain a filibuster against Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s pick for the court.

Republicans say this will lead them to follow through on their promise to go “nuclear,” which would change Senate rules, end the filibuster and allow Gorsuch to be confirmed with a simple majority vote.

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The final showdown will take place Thursday, when the Senate holds a vote to end debate on Gorsuch’s nomination.

Democrats revealed their hand at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting where the panel approved Gorsuch in an 11-9 party-line vote.

After it was over, Republicans decried the Democrats’ tactics, which many blamed on pressure from left-wing interest groups.

“It now seems apparent that this well-qualified and widely respected judge will be subject to the first successful partisan filibuster [of a Supreme Court nominee] in the history of the Senate,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPolitical figures pay tribute to Charles Krauthammer Charles Krauthammer dies at the age of 68 Overnight Energy: EPA declines to write new rule for toxic spills | Senate blocks move to stop Obama water rule | EPA bought 'tactical' pants and polos MORE (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor.

He called it a “new low.”

Democrats urged Trump to withdraw Gorsuch’s nomination, but there seems to be no chance of that happening.

McConnell and other veteran GOP senators for weeks have warned that if Democrats block Gorsuch, they will change the body’s rules to force his nomination through.

The fight over Gorsuch is just the latest escalation in the partisan battle over judicial and executive-branch nominees that has led to an erosion of the filibuster.

In 2013, Senate Democrats frustrated by GOP opposition to then-President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama to visit Kenya, South Africa for Obama Foundation in July Overnight Energy: EPA declines to write new rule for toxic spills | Senate blocks move to stop Obama water rule | EPA bought 'tactical' pants and polos Clarifying the power of federal agencies could offer Trump a lasting legacy MORE’s nominees went nuclear and changed the Senate rules to prevent the minority from filibustering any nominees to lower courts.

Senate Republicans in 2016 refused to hold a hearing or vote for Merrick Garland when Obama nominated him on March 16 to succeed late Supreme Court Justice ­Antonin Scalia.

Those episodes have colored the fight over Gorsuch, who emerged relatively unscathed from four days of confirmation hearings last month.

Five leading Democrats who had previously kept quiet on Gorsuch announced Monday that they would vote against him, citing his judicial record and his “evasive” answers during hearings.

Three of them, Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinChildren should not be human shields against immigration enforcement The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Immigration drama grips Washington Grassley wants to subpoena Comey, Lynch after critical IG report MORE (Calif.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: Defense spending bill amendments target hot-button issues | Space Force already facing hurdles | Senators voice 'deep' concerns at using military lawyers on immigration cases Senators 'deeply troubled' military lawyers being used for immigration cases Overnight Energy: EPA declines to write new rule for toxic spills | Senate blocks move to stop Obama water rule | EPA bought 'tactical' pants and polos MORE (Vt.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate moderates hunt for compromise on family separation bill All the times Horowitz contradicted Wray — but nobody seemed to notice Hillicon Valley: Trump hits China with massive tech tariffs | Facebook meets with GOP leaders over bias allegations | Judge sends Manafort to jail ahead of trial | AT&T completes Time Warner purchase MORE (Del.), opposed him in the Judiciary Committee vote.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerVirginia Dems want answers on alleged detention center abuse Wray defends FBI after 'sobering' watchdog report Top Dems: IG report shows Comey's actions helped Trump win election MORE (Va.), a centrist with a record of working with Republicans, announced his opposition during the markup.  

A fifth Democrat, Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinCommunity development impact remains clear with NMTC post-tax reform Dem sen: ‘Difficult to understand’ Trump’s treatment of allies Dem sen: No military option in North Korea ‘without extreme risks’ MORE (Md.), who had declined to endorse a filibuster of the nominee, said Monday afternoon he would vote to block the nominee because he worried Gorsuch would not be an “independent check” on Trump.

Only four Democrats have said they would vote against the filibuster. Three of them are centrists from states Trump won easily last year: Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Trump caves under immense pressure — what now? Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral Manchin up 9 points over GOP challenger in W.Va. Senate race MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampHeitkamp ad highlights record as Senate race heats up Supreme Court rules states can require online sellers to collect sales tax Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyElection Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral Actress Marcia Gay Harden urges Congress to boost Alzheimer's funding Manchin becomes final Democrat to back bill preventing separation of immigrant families MORE (Ind.).

A fourth, Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDemocrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending Senators hammer Ross over Trump tariffs MORE (Colo.), is from Gorsuch’s home state.

Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingMaine Senate candidate arrested outside immigration detention center Icebreaking ships are not America’s top priority in the Arctic Heckler yells ‘Mr. President, f--- you’ as Trump arrives at Capitol MORE (Maine), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, has yet to publicly state their positions.

McConnell held out hope Monday afternoon that some of his Democratic colleagues might be persuaded to change their minds.

He will devote the rest of this week’s schedule exclusively to debating the nomination instead of putting it on a parallel track with legislative business, as was done with other Trump nominees this year.

“It’s not too late for our Democratic colleagues to make the right choice,” McConnell said.

If Democrats block Gorsuch on Thursday, McConnell is expected to trigger the nuclear option. That would set up a final confirmation vote for Friday, before Congress is scheduled to leave for a two-week recess.

Democrats are under enormous pressure to oppose Gorsuch, in part because of the lingering bad feelings over Garland’s treatment, but also because their base is so fired up against Trump.

As a result, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pessimistic about the chances of striking a deal.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate panel advances three spending bills Trump says he will sign executive order to end family separations Trump backs narrow bill halting family separations: official MORE (R-S.C.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said a rule change is all but inevitable.

“If we have to, we will change the rules, and it looks like we’re going to have to,” he told colleagues Monday. “I hate that. I really, really do.”

A small group of Democratic centrists led by Manchin is making the argument to Democratic colleagues that they should allow Gorsuch to advance to preserve their power to filibuster a future nominee who could tip ideological the balance of the high court.

“There’s a group of people making that argument privately,” said one Democratic senator, who rejected it on grounds that he thinks Republicans will be just as likely to change the rules to fill the next court vacancy with a conservative.

A few GOP senators, including Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Gang of Four to meet next week on immigration Republicans agree — it’s only a matter of time for Scott Pruitt Skyrocketing insulin prices provoke new outrage MORE (Maine), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDon’t disrespect McCain by torpedoing his clean National Defense Authorization Act Meghan McCain rips Trump's 'gross' line about her dad Trump's America fights back MORE (Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOn The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending Senators hammer Ross over Trump tariffs GOP senator demands details on 'damaging' tariffs MORE (Tenn.), have expressed misgivings about the looming rule change.

Corker warned on the Senate floor that the power to filibuster legislation may disappear next because of growing pressure from each party’s base. 

Two additional Republicans, Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOn The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Supreme Court allows states to collect sales taxes from online retailers | Judge finds consumer bureau structure unconstitutional | Banks clear Fed stress tests Supreme Court rules states can require online sellers to collect sales tax 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families MORE (Tenn.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHeitkamp ad highlights record as Senate race heats up Icebreaking ships are not America’s top priority in the Arctic 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families MORE (Alaska), pointedly declined to say Monday evening whether they would vote for the nuclear option. 

McCain warned that a rule change may come back to haunt Republicans.

“Just as the Democrats regretted deeply what Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidAmendments fuel resentments within Senate GOP Donald Trump is delivering on his promises and voters are noticing Danny Tarkanian wins Nevada GOP congressional primary MORE [Nev.] did, we’ll regret what we did,” he said, referring to the Senate Democratic leader who ushered in the 2013 change.

Still, there will be tremendous pressure on Republicans to back McConnell’s move.

Graham, a former member of the bipartisan Gang of 14 that brokered a deal in 2005 to preserve judicial filibusters, said it would be “stupid” for the GOP to agree to any deal that entails a promise not to change the filibuster rule for the next vacancy if Gorsuch is confirmed.

“That would be a stupid, stupid deal, because there’s nobody more qualified that Trump could have chosen,” he said.

A senior Senate Democratic aide dismissed the possibility of a deal, predicting that Democrats would stand firm in their opposition.

“It’s not going to happen. Democrats don’t believe he should be on the court, and a deal is not enforceable,” the aide said.