Dem senator wraps all-night Supreme Court protest after 15 hours

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill MORE (D-Ore.) ended his all-night Supreme Court protest Wednesday morning, yielding the Senate floor after more than 15 hours. 

Merkley took over the Senate around 6:50 p.m. on Tuesday to rail against Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court and stopped speaking at 10:14 a.m. on Wednesday. 

“I’ve been here through the night talking about this to say how important this is that we not do this, that to proceed to fill this stolen seat that will damage the court for decades to come and damage the Senate for decades to come,” he said Wednesday morning.

Merkley used his hourslong speech to lay out broad criticisms of the current Supreme Court fight, accusing Republicans of "court packing."  

He added early Wednesday morning that the partisan fight over Gorsuch's nomination was creating a "very, very ugly setting" in the Senate.

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"It's my understanding that the sun is coming up behind the Supreme Court. I was stuck by how beautiful the weather was yesterday while the weather inside this building was so dark and gloomy," Merkley said just after 6 a.m.

The marathon speech won't delay the Senate's consideration of Gorsuch. Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Ky.) filed cloture on Tuesday before Merkley started speaking, setting up an automatic procedural vote for Thursday morning. 

But Merkley appeared undeterred by the deadline, with his office pledging he would "hold the floor and refuse to yield for as long as he is able to continue speaking."

Merkley blasted McConnell's decision, accusing him of them trying to choke off debate. 

“Here we are in the first day just hours into debate and the majority leader said, 'Enough. We don’t want to hear any more about this topic. We’re going to shut down debate,' " Merkley said. 

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill MORE (D-Ill.) was the only senator join Merkley's talkathon, coming to the floor around 6:30 a.m. and running through a litany of concerns about Gorsuch and the GOP strategy.

"This is part of a concerted effort by Republicans to take control of the federal judiciary," the No. 2 Democrat said.

Durbin also suggested that GOP groups are spending millions to help confirm Gorsuch because they think he will "rule along the lines that they believe."

Other colleagues and liberal outside groups offered their support for the Oregon Democrat via social media. 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who stayed on the floor for Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Dem: Graham-Cassidy is an 'intellectual and moral garbage truck fire' Dems call for action against Cassidy-Graham ObamaCare repeal Murphy fires back at Trump on filibuster MORE's (D-Conn.) 15-hour speech on gun control last year, praised Merkley in a video message

"His fortitude, his clear endurance being there all night, and his determination in this fight — [I] along with my colleagues just respect it. I'm grateful," he said. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill This week: Senate wrapping up defense bill after amendment fight Cuomo warns Dems against cutting DACA deal with Trump MORE (D-N.Y.) also gave him a shoutout, saying his floor speech is "what we're all watching tonight."

Merkley has been a vocal opponent of Gorsuch's nomination, predicting as early as late January that his party would filibuster Trump's pick.

He added during his speech that by refusing to hold a hearing or vote for Merrick Garland, former President Obama's nominee, Republicans are trying to fill a "stolen seat" and would start a chain of grievances between both parties.

"If you can steal one seat and get away with it, the temptation next time is to steal another seat," he said, proposing that Trump renominate Garland or someone in his mold instead. 

Merkley's speech comes as the Senate formally kicked off debate on Gorsuch's nomination Tuesday.

Democrats are largely opposed to Gorsuch's nomination. Only four Democrats have said they will help Trump's pick get over an initial procedural hurdle.

Merkley — reiterating a frequent liberal talking point — added that the Senate shouldn't confirm a Trump Supreme Court nominee amid an FBI investigation into Russia's meddling in the White House race and any ties between Trump officials and Moscow.

“This is a very serious question. There is a very dark cloud over the legitimacy of the election, and therefore, the legitimacy of the president," he said.

He also knocked Trump over a myriad of other policies, including building a U.S.-Mexico border wall and breaking his pledge to "drain the swamp." 

There is no sign that Republicans will reverse course on Gorsuch. GOP outside groups chalked his hourslong speech to an 11th hour effort that is doomed to fail.

Nathan Brand, a spokesman for the conservative America Rising Squared, compared his speech to "those all-nighters before a test in college."

"While Senator Merkley's desperate floor speech may serve him well with his looney liberal base, it also shows how Senate Democrats have been co-opted by the extreme activists in their party," he said.