Confirmation wars: Senate showdown at hand over Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch

In this photo taken on, Tuesday, April 4, 2017, the Capitol in seen from the Supreme Court Building in the District of Columbia. A Democratic senator held the Senate floor through the night and was still going Wednesday in an attention-grabbing talk-a-thon highlighting his party's opposition to President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., intend to respond to a filibuster by unilaterally changing Senate rules to remove the 60-vote filibuster requirement for Gorsuch and all future Supreme Court nominees, reducing it to a simple majority in the 100-member Senate. District of Columbia, April 4, 2017 | AP Photo by J. Scott Applewhite, St. George News

 

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (AP) — A Senate showdown is at hand over President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, and it could change the Senate and the court for years to come.

In this March 21, 2017, file photo, Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch explains mutton busting, an event held at rodeos similar to bull riding or bronc riding, in which children ride or race sheep, as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. District of Columbia, March 21, 2017 | AP Photo by Susan Walsh, St. George News

The confrontation will play out Thursday as 44 Democrats and independents try to block the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch by denying Republicans the 60 votes needed to proceed to final passage.


UpdateSenate GOP exercises ‘nuclear option’ allowing confirmation of Gorsuch to proceed


Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, intend to respond by unilaterally changing Senate rules to remove the 60-vote filibuster requirement for Gorsuch and all future Supreme Court nominees, reducing it to a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.

Read more: Partisan showdown over Gorsuch; Hatch speaks to ’60-vote threshold’

Democrats escalated their attacks against Gorsuch ahead of key votes set for Thursday, portraying him as an ally of the powerful and an enemy of the weak. Republicans defended him, accusing Democrats of trying to block Gorsuch out of frustration over Trump’s election victory.

Graphic shows process for confirming Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch | Image by The Associated Press, St. George News

“Democrats would filibuster Ruth Bader Ginsburg if President Donald Trump nominated her,” McConnell said, naming one of the more liberal sitting justices. “There is simply no principled reason to oppose this exceptional, exceptional Supreme Court nominee.”

Democrats begged to differ, returning again and again to McConnell’s decision last year to deny consideration to then-President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, who was ignored for nearly a year by Senate Republicans after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, about the struggle to move Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch toward a final up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. District of Columbia, April 4, 2017 | AP Photo by J. Scott Applewhite, St. George News

Instead McConnell kept Scalia’s seat open, a calculation that is now paying off hugely for Republicans and Trump, who will be able to claim the biggest victory of his presidency to date if Gorsuch is confirmed as expected.

“For the first time in history,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, said, “we are considering a nominee for a stolen Supreme Court seat, and that alone should be reason for everyone who cares about this institution to turn down this nominee.”

Merkley’s comment came as he wrapped up a 15-and-a-half-hour overnight talk-a-thon to underscore his party’s opposition to Gorsuch.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, senior member and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday night about the upcoming vote.

“Every single escalation of the confirmation wars, Mr. President (of the Senate) can be laid at the feet of Democrats,” Hatch said. “That is the simple truth, and nothing my colleagues on the other side of the aisle can say can change it.

“I speak from experience, Mr. President. I’ve been here through all of it.”

He then outlined what he called 30 years of Democrat obstruction of the confirmation process and countless demonstrations of bad faith in blocking, stalling and smearing Republican nominees throughout the judicial confirmation process, including such nominees as Judge Robert Bork, Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Samuel Alito, and others.

Watch: Hatch’s outline of the history of the confirmation process

If the maneuvering plays out as expected it will set the stage for a final confirmation vote on Gorsuch Friday, allowing him to join the court in time to hear the final set of cases this term.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, speaks to reporters just outside the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, after he ended a 15 hour all-night talk-a-thon as the Senate heads toward a showdown over the confirmation vote for Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch. District of Columbia, April 5, 2017 | AP Photo by J. Scott Applewhite, St. George News

Senators on both sides of the aisle lamented the trajectory they were on toward the Senate rules change, though they themselves were in position to prevent it from happening and failed to do so.

Moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said roughly 10 senators of both parties worked over the weekend to come up with a deal to stave off the so-called “nuclear option,” as the rules change is known, but couldn’t come to agreement. In 2005, a bipartisan deal headed off GOP plans to remove the filibuster barrier for lower-court nominees, but in 2013 Democrats took the step, leaving the filibuster in place only for Supreme Court justices.

And now, with political polarization at an extreme, the Senate is on the verge of killing off the Supreme Court filibuster, the one remaining vestige of bipartisanship on presidential appointments. For now the filibuster barrier on legislation will remain, though many fear it could be the next to go.

“I fear that someday we will regret what we are about to do. In fact, I am confident we will,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. “It is imperative we have a functioning Senate where the rights of the minority are protected regardless of which party is in power at the time.”

Nonetheless, McCain was prepared to vote with McConnell on the rules change, saying he felt he had no choice.

Gorsuch now counts 55 supporters in the Senate: the 52 Republicans, along with three moderate Democrats from states that Trump won last November — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. A fourth Senate Democrat, Michael Bennet from Gorsuch’s home state of Colorado, has said he will not join in the filibuster against Gorsuch but has not said how he will vote on confirmation.

Written by ERICA WERNER, AP Congressional Correspondent. Associated Press writers Mark Sherman, Mary Clare Jalonick and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this report.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press as to AP portion. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Balance

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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