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 DurbinDick DurbinCongress should butt out of Supreme Court's business Inmates grapple with uncertainty over Biden prison plan Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (D-Ill.) says he’s not tallying votes for the nominee, leaving it to Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPoll: Majority of voters say more police are needed amid rise in crime America's middle class is getting hooked on government cash — and Democrats aren't done yet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (N.Y.) to have one-on-one conversations with undecided members of their caucus. 

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate This week: Senate starts infrastructure sprint Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session 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.

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“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 ManchinJoe ManchinGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Graham says he has COVID-19 'breakthrough' infection Infrastructure deal would require study on job losses from Keystone's end 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 HeitkampJoe Manchin's secret Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Effective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests 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 McCaskillGiuliani to stump for Greitens in Missouri McCaskill shares new July 4 family tradition: Watching Capitol riot video Joe Manchin's secret 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 McConnellOn The Money: Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban | Trump attorney says he will fight release of tax returns Graham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate McConnell warns Democrats against 'artificial timeline' for infrastructure deal 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 DonnellySupreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Republicans fret over divisive candidates Everybody wants Joe Manchin MORE (Ind.). They also include Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinNearly 140 Democrats urge EPA to 'promptly' allow California to set its own vehicle pollution standards Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund Stripping opportunity from DC's children MORE (Calif.), the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee; Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetLawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals How Sen. Graham can help fix the labor shortage with commonsense immigration reform For true American prosperity, make the child tax credit permanent MORE (Colo.), who represents Gorsuch’s home state and introduced him at his confirmation hearings; Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Optimism grows that infrastructure deal will get to Biden's desk MORE (Va.), a centrist with a record of working with the GOP; and Angus KingAngus KingWhite House cyber chief backs new federal bureau to track threats Manchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights New Senate bill would hurt charities and those they serve 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 KaineThis week: Senate starts infrastructure sprint Overnight Defense: Watchdog blasts government's handling of Afghanistan conflict | Biden asks Pentagon to look into mandatory vaccines | Congress passes new Capitol security bill GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate MORE (Va.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate panel advances controversial public lands nominee in tie vote A plan to address the growing orphaned wells crisis Schumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' 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 CantwellTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Congress must act now to pass a bipartisan federal privacy law 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 CarperKey Senate Republican praises infrastructure deal Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure 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.