Democrats And Republicans Dig In For Political Fight Over Gorsuch

Mar 29, 2017
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There is a clash coming next week that could permanently change the dynamics of both the Senate and the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats are determined to oppose Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the court. Republicans are just as determined to confirm him. And as NPR's Scott Detrow reports from the Capitol, neither side is backing down.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Shortly after Neil Gorsuch wrapped up three days in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made this announcement on the Senate floor.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: He will have to earn 60 votes for confirmation. My vote will be no. And I urge my colleagues to do the same.

DETROW: Insisting on that earlier procedural vote means that Gorsuch would need support from at least eight Democrats in order to get a final up or down vote. It's increasingly clear he won't get it. Senate Democrats genuinely think Gorsuch is a far-right judge. And they're still angry about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's decision last year to block President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland. Schumer pointed out that Gorsuch repeatedly said during his hearings there are no Republican judges or Democratic judges.

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SCHUMER: But if that were true we wouldn't be here, would we? If that were true, if the Senate were merely evaluating a nominee based on his or her qualifications, Merrick Garland would be seated on the Supreme Court right now.

DETROW: Democrats say Republicans should pick another nominee. McConnell doesn't buy that argument at all.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: We are optimistic that they will not be successful in keeping this good man from joining the Supreme Court very soon.

DETROW: Republicans love Gorsuch. They see his resume as sterling and see him anchoring the conservative side of the court's bench for decades. In short, there's no way Republicans will fold. McConnell and other GOP leaders say that means changing the rules so Supreme Court picks can be confirmed with a bare 51 vote majority instead of that initial 60-vote bar. It's long been called the nuclear option for a reason - because neither party's been willing to do it. But with both sides so dug in, Republicans and Democrats see the change as inevitable.

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CHRIS COONS: And I think this is tragic. And in talking to friends on both sides of the aisle, we've got a lot of senators concerned about where we're headed.

DETROW: That's Delaware Democrat Chris Coons speaking to MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this week.

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COONS: There's Republicans still very mad at us over the 2013 change to the filibuster rule. We're mad at them about shutting down the government. They're mad at us about Gorsuch. And we are not headed in a good direction. I'm very concerned about where we're headed.

DETROW: That 2013 change is a key plot point here. Democrats controlled the Senate then, and they made the same change, eliminating the 60-vote threshold for lower court nominations. Tennessee Republican Bob Corker sees it all as a downward spiral of partisanship, where each side holds grudges from when the other was in power. Corker doesn't see how the Supreme Court change gets avoided here.

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BOB CORKER: If the Democrats know that Mitch is ready to invoke the nuclear option, they have no desire to not filibuster - right? - they know he's going to be confirmed either way.

DETROW: But Corker says making that change on the nation's highest court would have a major impact.

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CORKER: That means that every president who comes down the pike in the future knows that if their side's in the majority, they have no reason to appoint a Boy Scout like Gorsuch.

DETROW: Because why nominate anybody other than an extreme partisan if you don't need votes from the other side? The Senate has been on this sort of brink before. And often, groups of lawmakers from both parties would come together at the last minute and hash out some sort of agreement. Republican John McCain usually played a role in those deals. This time, McCain says there's much more poison in the air, and he doesn't see it happening. So Schumer and McConnell have effectively entered their caucuses into a big legislative game of chicken. The cars are on pace to meet each other head-on at the end of next week. Scott Detrow, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.