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Judge Neil Gorsuch faces a key test this week that could put him on the Supreme Court bench or, in an unlikely scenario, force President Donald Trump to withdraw his nomination.
Senate Democrats on Monday obtained 41 commitments to oppose and filibuster Gorsuch, setting the stage for a showdown that many observers expect will result in the elimination of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-9 on Monday to approve Gorsuch’s nomination, setting the stage for a full Senate vote later this week.
Four Democrats have promised to vote for Gorsuch’s confirmation, while Democratic Sens. Mark Warner, Chris Coons, and Patrick Leahy have committed to blocking Gorsuch, giving Democrats enough votes to sustain a filibuster.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer previously predicted the judge would not hit the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster, and the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein, on Monday said she would join the efforts to block Gorsuch’s nomination.
If Democrats filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to invoke the “nuclear” option, eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations.
Speaking to “Meet the Press” on Sunday, McConnell pointed to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 2013 elimination of the filibuster for most presidential nominations in the face of Republican opposition to President Barack Obama’s selections.
“What I can tell you is that Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week,” McConnell said. “How that happens really depends on our Democratic friends, how many of them are willing to oppose cloture on a partisan basis to kill a Supreme Court nominee, never happened before in history, the whole history of the country.”
Minutes later on “Meet the Press,” Schumer accused McConnell of having broken precedent, saying Republicans had refused to hold a vote to confirm Judge Merrick Garland, whom many Republican lawmakers had praised. Obama nominated Garland to the court in early 2016 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Schumer also urged McConnell to uphold the filibuster and find a more centrist nominee who could appeal to lawmakers from both parties.
“Instead of changing the rules, which is up to Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority, why doesn’t President Trump, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate sit down and try to come up with a mainstream nominee?” Schumer said. “Look, when a nominee doesn’t get 60 votes, you shouldn’t change the rules, you should change the nominee.”
Some Democratic lawmakers have conceded that Gorsuch is qualified to serve on the court. But they have felt increasing pressure from progressive activists to oppose his nomination because of his conservative rulings on key issues like businesses’ religious freedom and executive authority.
Pro-abortion-rights groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America have aggressively opposed Gorsuch’s nomination, vowing not to endorse any Democrat who votes to confirm the judge.
Many of these activists have attempted to voice their displeasure in front of conservative lawmakers.
“I’m going to vote for Judge Gorsuch. I think he’s a highly qualified man,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said at a town hall on Saturday, eliciting a chorus of boos. “I will vote for him because I cannot think of a better person a Republican president could’ve chosen.”
When an audience member shouted Garland’s name, the senator quipped, “When I hear a Democrat complain about Merrick Garland, it’s almost to me like an arsonist complaining about a fire.”