Key Democrats to watch in Gorsuch showdown


Several key Democrats are keeping their votes to themselves days before a showdown over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation.

Gorsuch needs 60 votes to end a filibuster backed by most Democrats, meaning the GOP needs to pick off eight members of the minority. 

If Democrats block Gorsuch, Republicans promise to go “nuclear,” ordering a vote to change the Senate’s rules to allow his nomination to go forward on a majority vote. 

Some voices on the left and the right appear to be hoping for such an outcome, though a group of centrist Democrats is trying to ward off that showdown. They are warning fellow Democratic senators that their party should not filibuster Gorsuch, warning it could lead to eliminating the filibuster for legislation.

Two centrist Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), announced late Thursday that they would vote for Gorsuch. Both face reelection next year in states that Trump carried by big margins in 2016.

{mosads}Republicans control 52 seats and now need six more Democrats or Independents to support advancing his nomination to a final up-or-down vote to get over the 60-vote bar and avoid a showdown over the rules.

Three Republican senators told The Hill Thursday that their caucus is unified on the question of changing the rules if Democrats block Gorsuch with a filibuster.

They claim it would be tougher to change the rules when the next court vacancy occurs, because that seat could swing the ideological balance of the court and reverse the right to an abortion established by the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.

Triggering a rules change to confirm Gorsuch is a slam dunk, they add, because the future makeup of the Supreme Court was a major issue for voters in 2016, the nominee is a well-qualified 10-year veteran of the 10th Circuit Court of appeals and the vacant seat belonged to the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

While the debate over Gorsuch has ratcheted up this week, several Democrats haven’t gone public with their positions. Here’s a look at some of the key Democrats.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)

Feinstein is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and has stressed that her concerns over how Gorsuch would rule on abortion rights during confirmation hearings earlier this month.

Out of respect for the institution, she wants the committee to complete its process of reviewing and voting on his nomination before stating her position.

“This process is important to me, and I want it to conclude and the discussion is not a long time away. It’s next week. So you’re going to find out,” she told reporters.  

Feinstein may be moved by those urging Democrats to keep their power to filibuster for the next Supreme Court vacancy, but a senior Democratic aide said Thursday it’s unlikely she would vote to cut off a filibuster of Gorsuch’s nomination.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

Leahy, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has worked throughout his career to keep Supreme Court confirmation debates above the everyday rancor of partisan politics.

He voted to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, to the court in 2005 and recently told a Vermont media outlet that he’s “not inclined to filibuster” Gorsuch, even though he’s not inclined to vote for him.

He has since walked back the statement, telling reporters that he will not make a final decision until Gorush answers some of the additional questions he’s posed in writing. An aide to Leahy said the answers to those queries may not come back until Saturday.

Gorsuch submitted more than 70 pages of written answers to senators’ written questions on Thursday afternoon.

A spokesperson for Leahy did not respond to a follow-up request for comment.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Warner is one of the chamber’s leading dealmakers and in 2011 formed a special bipartisan “gang” to work on debt and deficit issues.

He said he wants to review Gorsuch’s hearing testimony and written answers before coming to a conclusion on how to vote.

He also narrowly won reelection in 2014.  

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)

McCaskill is up for reelection next year in a state that Trump carried by nearly 20 percentage points and has steadfastly refused to discuss Gorsuch’s nomination with the media.

An audio recording of her meeting with Democratic donors revealed, however, that she has strong misgivings about voting against the nominee and risking a showdown that could result in a permanent change to the filibuster rule.

McCaskill warned donors that blocking Gorsuch could provoke Republicans to change the rules, giving President Trump an incentive to nominate someone they would consider even more extreme to the court.

The private discussion was first reported by the Kansas City Star.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)

Bennet introduced Gorsuch, a fellow Coloradan, to the Judiciary Committee on his first day of confirmation hearings and was immediately criticized by Credo Action, a liberal advocacy group, for putting the nominee on good footing at the start of that week.

On the other hand, more than 200 prominent Colorado-based lawyers have written to Bennet and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) urging them to confirm Gorsuch.

Bennet, who earlier this year was spotted strolling with Gorsuch down the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver, says he is still making up his mind.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.)

Coons has a reputation as a pragmatic senator who is sympathetic to business interests, which means the liberal attacks on Gorsuch for being too pro-business might have less traction with him than other lawmakers. 

Coons, another member of the Judiciary Committee, has expressed concerns about the nominee but has not yet said how he will vote.

“He hasn’t answered my questions. For the record, I’ve sent written questions,” Coons said Thursday.

Coons added that he’s been busy with other committee work and will review his record more closely over the weekend.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)

Tester faces reelection next year in another strongly pro-Trump state.

He says he is in the middle of reviewing a 150-page briefing book on Gorsuch’s record and wants to finish his study before announcing a decision.

Gorsuch’s evasive answers at his confirmation hearing are cause for concern, he said, as is the uncertainty over how he would vote on a re-litigation of Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed non-profit groups to spend unlimited amounts on federal races.

“Basically, Citizens United is the big one for me because I just think if we don’t get campaign finance reform at some point in time, we’re not doing right by the people of this country or the democracy,” Tester told reporters.

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)

Donnelly operates below the radar on most issues, so it’s not surprising his vote on Gorsuch remains a mystery. He’s up for reelection in 2018 in a state Trump carried with 56.5 percent of the vote.

Donnelly does not speak to reporters in the halls of Capitol Hill and his office did not respond to a query about his position. 

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine)

King is an Independent who caucuses and usually votes with Democrats.

Voting for Gorsuch would help him solidify those independent credentials — something Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) momentarily forgot when he introduced him at a press conference on the House GOP healthcare bill earlier this month.

King praised Gorsuch at a town hall meeting earlier this month as “exceedingly independent” and argued for the importance of an “independent judiciary” to stand up to the Trump administration.

Schumer, however, has argued that Gorsuch has not demonstrated that he’s likely to be strong check on Trump, noting he dodged questions on the president’s travel ban and whether the Constitution’s ban on officeholders receiving gifts from foreign powers applied to Trump’s real estate empire. 

Check The Hill’s whip list to see where every member of the Democratic caucus stands on Gorsuch.  

Tags Angus King Chris Coons Chuck Schumer Claire McCaskill Cory Gardner Dianne Feinstein Heidi Heitkamp Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin Jon Tester Mark Warner Michael Bennet Patrick Leahy

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