Even before Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch began to make the rounds to Capitol Offices on Wednesday afternoon in an attempt to win confirmation from the U.S. Senate, Democratic efforts to hold the line against him were underway.
Just after Gorsuch’s nomination was announced Tuesday night, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement that Democrats would demand 60 votes to confirm Gorsuch, a rare move on Supreme Court nominees and one that could set into motion the eradication of the filibuster for the Supreme Court.
Many Republicans on Wednesday chummily held the line that Gorsuch was so qualified that they weren’t sure Democrats would object to him. But others were candid about what may transpire if Democrats really do stand in the way of Gorsuch.
“Democrats have no problem voting against a conservative in any shape or form unless they are up for re-election in a red state,” said Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID). “We’ll get more than just the Republicans, I believe, but you’ll never get to 60.”
Risch said he thought Democrats would let a few of their rank-and-file who are up for re-election in red states vote “yes” on Gorsuch, but he was pretty convinced Democrats would try to hold the line.
“They can do 59 votes so they got the 10 that are in red states and they say ‘Okay, we can six of you off the hook. Who are the heroes.'” Risch said. “We’re going to do what we have to do. Just like they did, we’re going to do what we have to do to get him confirmed.”
Republicans’ option to “go nuclear” is shorthand for changing the rules on Supreme Court nominations so that nominees would only need 51 votes to be confirmed. Many Republicans seemed to hint that if Democrats played hardball or blocked Gorsuch, they’d go there.
When former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was in power in 2014, he invoked the so-called nuclear option to lower the vote threshold on other judicial nominees and Cabinet officials in order to push Obama’s nominees through—but not on Supreme Court nominees.
“I think it’s something that we have to consider. Harry Reid is the guy who broke the dam,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), long a defender of Senate rules, said. “We have to consider all things and I’ll look a lot to our leadership and our conference depending on what Democrats do.”
Democrats, meanwhile, feel the seat has been robbed from them. Former President Barack Obama tried to fill it last year, only to be rebuffed by Republicans who wouldn’t even hold a nomination hearing for his pick, Merrick Garland.
A handful of Democrats, including Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, already have said they will vote against Gorsuch. But Republicans warn that is a dangerous game to play.
President Donald Trump was already pressuring McConnell, a long time Senate rules traditionalists, to go for it.
“If we end up with that gridlock, I would say, ‘If you can, Mitch, go nuclear,’” Trump said on Wednesday.
The Senate’s No. 2, John Cornyn (R-TX), said he was going to withhold any judgements on what to do until the process began to unfold.
“I’m interested in Democrats voting up or down on the nominee,” Cornyn said. “I don’t think [the nuclear option] is going to be necessary.”