Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support

Centrist Democrats are withholding their support of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch after Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (D-N.Y.) came out strongly against him.

Gorsuch, who is nominated to fill the vacancy on the court left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, appeared to be coasting to Senate confirmation a few weeks ago.

But after three days of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings put a spotlight on his record, Democratic support for his nomination is looking less certain.

The hearings highlighted a dissenting opinion Gorsuch wrote siding with a trucking company that fired an employee who declined to sit inside a broken-down vehicle in sub-zero weather. The man was showing symptoms of hypothermia.

ADVERTISEMENT
Democrats also scrutinized Gorsuch’s ruling against a parent who sought to place a severely autistic boy in a special schooling program under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The Supreme Court effectively overturned that ruling while he testified Wednesday by striking down another court decision that relied on his interpretation.

Those rulings aren’t sitting well with centrist Democrats, nor is his refusal this week to endorse Roe v. Wade, the landmark case creating abortion rights, or even Eisenstadt v. Baird, which guaranteed the right to use contraception. 

Republicans control 52 seats in the Senate. They will need the support of eight Democrats to end the filibuster of Gorsuch that liberals are vowing to wage. 

Right now, getting eight votes Democratic votes is looking like a heavy lift. 

“They might not get to 60 [votes], which they’re starting to get anxious about,” said Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Who is Andrew Wheeler, EPA's new acting chief? Congress can protect midterm elections with the Disclose Act MORE (D-R.I.), a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Another Senate Democratic source said centrists who appeared open to backing Gorsuch after meeting with him personally are now starting to pull back.

President Trump’s sinking public approval rating has begun to undermine his agenda on Capitol Hill — most obviously his plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare — along with his court pick, Democrats say. 

After Gorsuch delivered three days of public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, including nearly 20 hours of direct questioning, not a single centrist Democrat announced support for him Thursday.

The most likely Democrat to vote yes, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Morrisey accuses Manchin of 'lying' to Trump, attacks ‘liberal’ record The Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments MORE of West Virginia, said he wants to meet again with Gorsuch privately before making a decision.  

Republicans were counting on Manchin, who is running for reelection next year in a state that Trump won by 42 points, to be a certain yes on the nominee — but he’s not there yet. 

Other Democrats considered likely to vote for Gorsuch said they are undecided.

“I’m not talking about Gorsuch,” said Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Senate Dems lock in million in TV airtime Why does Congress keep playing political games on FBI oversight? MORE (D-Mo.), who is up for reelection next year in a state Trump won by nearly 20 points. 

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Bipartisan group introduces retirement savings legislation in Senate Fed chief lays out risks of trade war MORE (D-N.D.), who also faces voters in 2018 in a heavily pro-Trump state, said, “I haven’t decided.” 

She wants to review the tapes of the confirmation hearings and “catch up” before announcing her position. 

Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetHarley stunner spikes tension with Trump over trade policy Races to watch in Tuesday’s primaries Democrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor MORE (D-Colo.), who introduced Gorsuch, a fellow Coloradan, to the Judiciary panel Monday, said, “I’m thinking about it.” 

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Fed chief lays out risks of trade war Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (D-Mont.), who is on the ballot next year in a state Trump carried by 20 points, said he wouldn’t announce a decision until next week. 

“There are some things I wish he had been a little bit more clear on. There are some questions he didn’t answer,” he said. 

While all of those senators are facing competitive reelection races, they are also under intense pressure from members of the liberal grassroots to oppose Gorsuch. Backing the nominee could wind up angering those voters in a midterm election year where turning out the base will be crucial. 

Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Dem senator: Kavanaugh would 'turn back the clock' on women's health care MORE (D), who is running for reelection in Pennsylvania, a state Trump won, quickly announced to reporters in a call Thursday that he would oppose Gorsuch, citing his opinion against the truck driver.

Schumer vowed Thursday that he will whip his members against the nominee.

“My vote will be no, and I urge my colleagues to do the same,” he said on the Senate floor.

Schumer warned that Gorsuch, who was recommended by two conservative groups, the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, is “someone with a deep-seated conservative ideology.”

Gorsuch this week dodged questions about how he viewed Trump’s controversial travel ban on visitors from several predominantly Muslim countries or whether the constitutional ban on U.S. officeholders accepting gifts from foreign powers applied to Trump’s real-estate empire. 

Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingLawmakers say Trump tariffs are threatening local newspapers Senate adds members to pro-NATO group Hillicon Valley: Hacker tried to sell military docs on dark web | Facebook fined over Cambridge Analytica | US closer to lifting ZTE ban | Trump, Obama lose followers in Twitter purge | DOJ weighs appeal on AT&T merger MORE (Maine), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, earlier this month described Gorsuch’s record as “exceedingly independent.”

On Thursday, however, he said hadn’t made up his mind on his nomination.

Liberal activists, such as filmmaker Michael Moore, warn that Democrats who vote for Gorsuch will face primary challenges.

Heidi Hess, senior campaign manager at CREDO Action, a liberal advocacy group, criticized Bennet Monday after he introduced Gorsuch and “contributed to the lighthearted tone” of the first day of the Judiciary Committee hearings.

“A vote for Gorsuch is a vote to hand the court over to Trump,” she said. “In the same way the vote to hand the Iraq war vote to George W. Bush was a stain on Democrats’ record, we see a vote for Gorsuch as a stain on their record and progressives will hold them accountable.” 

Republicans such as conservative Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke calls for Trump's impeachment over Putin summit Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate rips his own parents for donations to Dems The Memo: Trump leaves chaos in his wake in UK MORE (Texas) have threatened to change the Senate’s filibuster rule if Democrats block Gorsuch. 

They could do so with a simple majority vote, a tactic so controversial it’s called the nuclear option. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE (R-S.C.) said he’d be willing to consider the nuclear option if Democrats block Gorsuch. 

"Whatever it takes to get him on the court, I will do," Graham said on "The Mike Gallagher Show," as reported by CNN. 

But Democrats are betting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash House passes bipartisan bill to boost business investment MORE (R-Ky.) will have a tough time persuading 50 members of his caucus to change the rules for the nominee. 

“They might not get it,” a senior Democratic aide said of the prospect of McConnell mustering enough votes to change the filibuster rule.

Schumer has urged Republicans recommend Trump pick another nominee instead of amending the Senate’s rules.