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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 McConnell GOP leaning toward Arizona sex crimes prosecutor to question Kavanaugh accuser: report GOP confidence grows on Kavanaugh Senate panel schedules Friday morning vote for Kavanaugh 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 ObamaOvernight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Texas coal plant to shut down | Macron rejects trade deals with climate pact outsiders | Vote on park funding bills to miss deadline Obama urges Americans to vote: 'This moment is too important to sit out' Trump doctrine just declared at UN — and it’s called ‘maximum pressure’ 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 FeinsteinKavanaugh accuser Ramirez's attorney says Republicans were no-shows on scheduled call Dem senators slam GOP for announcing Kavanaugh vote ahead of Ford testimony Grassley to Feinstein: We won't delay Kavanaugh hearing MORE (Calif.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAmnesty International calls to halt Kavanaugh nomination Kamala Harris calls for Senate to protect Mueller probe as Rosenstein faces potential dismissal Dem senator praises Ford opening the door to testifying MORE (Vt.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsGOP senator defends hiring sex-crimes prosecutor for Kavanaugh hearing Coons says Senate may know more about Kavanugh's social life than Bush-era legal work Judiciary Democrat calls for additional witnesses to testify on Kavanaugh MORE (Del.), opposed him in the Judiciary Committee vote.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate panel eyes vote on parks funding bills after key deadline Key House Dem's objections stall intel bill as deadline looms Russia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community 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 CardinOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment More Dems come out in public opposition to Kavanaugh 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) ManchinThis week: Kavanaugh nomination thrown into further chaos GOP plays defense on ObamaCare’s pre-existing conditions Doug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampCramer questions if allegations should disqualify Kavanaugh ‘even if it’s all true’ Heitkamp highlights anti-human trafficking bill in new ad Midterm polling data favors Democrats — in moderation MORE (N.D.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyThis week: Kavanaugh nomination thrown into further chaos Doug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh MORE (Ind.).

A fourth, Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan senators unveil proposal to crack down on surprise medical bills Multiple NFL players continue on-field protests during national anthem MORE (Colo.), is from Gorsuch’s home state.

Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingA Senator Gary Johnson could be good not just for Libertarians, but for the Senate too Restoring our national parks would be a bipartisan win for Congress Restore our parks 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 GrahamGOP divide in Congress over Rosenstein's future Sanders: Kavanaugh accusers 'have risked their lives to come forward' Rosenstein fiasco raises the stakes in midterms for DOJ’s future 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 CollinsGOP confidence grows on Kavanaugh GOP divide in Congress over Rosenstein's future Senate panel schedules Friday morning vote for Kavanaugh MORE (Maine), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainUpcoming Kavanaugh hearing: Truth or consequences How the Trump tax law passed: Dealing with a health care hangover Kavanaugh’s fate rests with Sen. Collins MORE (Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerBredesen says he won't back Schumer for Senate Dem leader GOP confidence grows on Kavanaugh Senate eyes Kavanaugh floor vote next week 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 AlexanderDems push back on using federal funds to arm teachers Overnight Health Care: GOP plays defense over pre-existing conditions | Groups furious over new Trump immigration proposal | Public health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens MORE (Tenn.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP confidence grows on Kavanaugh Senate panel schedules Friday morning vote for Kavanaugh Overnight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Texas coal plant to shut down | Macron rejects trade deals with climate pact outsiders | Vote on park funding bills to miss deadline 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 ReidKavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow Dems can’t ‘Bork’ Kavanaugh, and have only themselves to blame Dem senator: Confidential documents would 'strongly bolster' argument against Kavanaugh's nomination 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.