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Republicans weigh ‘nuclear option’ as Dem opposition to Gorsuch hardens

Sen. Sherrod Brown spoke to WKRC from Capitol Hill on March 22, 2017. (SBG)

As a vote on President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee approaches, Democrats are debating whether to use a filibuster to try to stop it, and Republicans must decide if they are willing to go “nuclear” in response.

Judge Neil Gorsuch’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee continued into its third day Wednesday. Democrats have complained that his answers are evasive, but Republicans are praising his performance.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and others have floated the argument that Gorsuch’s confirmation should be delayed because the FBI confirmed Monday it is investigating Trump’s campaign’s ties to Russia.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., echoed that point Wednesday, saying that any collusion between Trump associates and Russia would be “a treasonous act.”

“The point that Minority Leader Schumer was making on this was that right now individuals very close to the president are being investigated for coordinating between the Trump campaign and Russia… It puts a cloud over the president and his team,” he said.

Procedurally, there is not much Democrats can do to stop Gorsuch’s confirmation, but many of their supporters still want to see them fight.

“When Democrats dither and bend over backwards to appear ‘reasonable’ in the ways only Washington can define it, they allow Republicans to enact their extremist right-wing agenda. Democrats need to do everything possible to stop Trump’s extreme pick for the court, up to and including filibustering him,” Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, said in a statement last week.

Some progressive groups have even threatened to mount primary challenges against Democrats who allow a vote on Gorsuch.

Much of the controversy has little to do with Gorsuch himself, although Democrats do insist his views are outside the mainstream. Democrats see the Supreme Court seat he is vying for as a stolen one after Republicans refused to even hold hearings last year for President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

“The nomination itself is illegitimate,” Merkley said.

“This precedent if allowed to stand does deep damage to the integrity of the Senate…and the integrity of the court because this is a court-packing scheme being perpetrated by the Senate majority,” he said.

With nearly a dozen Democratic senators facing 2018 reelection fights in states that Trump won in November, it is unclear how many would join a sustained effort to blockade Trump’s nominee. Especially since the GOP has the power to overcome it.

Top Republicans have made clear that they are willing to invoke the “nuclear option” if Democrats do maintain a filibuster, changing the rules of the Senate to require only 51 votes to end debate on Supreme Court confirmations. The change can be made with a simple majority vote.

Democrats under then-Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the trigger on that measure for lower court nominations in 2013 when Republicans stalled a number of Obama nominees.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told Sinclair Wednesday that he would support nuking the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees if necessary, though he wants to preserve it for other legislative matters.

If Democrats refuse to allow a vote on a qualified nominee like Gorsuch, he said there would be no other choice.

Hatch blamed Democrats and their bitterness over the outcome of the presidential election for the current level of partisan dysfunction in Congress.

However, Merkley contended that Gorsuch’s past rulings and writings reveal him to be anti-labor, anti-environment, and anti-LGBT rights.

“We need to have folks who are in the mainstream, and Gorsuch is not in the mainstream,” he said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also took issue with the nominee’s views.

“What bothers me about Judge Gorsuch and the reason I’m voting against him is that he subscribes to the view that corporations are people”

“The system is too stacked for people at the top against the broad middle class and against the working poor,” Brown said, “and I don’t want another Supreme Court justice that is going to come down on the side of corporate interests time after time after time at the expense of the rest of the country.”

Democratic attacks on Gorsuch ring hollow to Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala.

“The Democrats are really struggling to find some reason to criticize him,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think they have to come to grips with the fact that President Trump won the election.”

He added that if Democrats will not confirm Gorsuch, there is no Republican they would approve, and “we can’t live with that situation.”

Still, Merkley offered one warning for Republicans considering the nuclear option.

“For all we know, there may be one nomination under President Trump, there may be three under the next president,” he said.

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