The battle over the vacant Supreme Court seat took a turn on Thursday when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer gave the green light for Democrats to filibuster the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch — signaling the fight could now go "nuclear."
In comments from the Senate floor Thursday, Schumer not only said he could not support Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, but that the judge "will have to earn 60 votes for confirmation."
"My vote will be 'no,' and I urge my colleagues to do the same," Schumer said. "To my Republican friends who think that if Judge Gorsuch fails to reach 60 votes we ought to change the rules I say: if this nominee cannot earn 60 votes, a bar met by each of President [Barack] Obama’s nominees, and President [George W.] Bush’s last two nominees, the answer isn’t to change the rules – it’s to change the nominee."
Republicans were hoping to be able to confirm Gorsuch on a simple majority, as they hold 52 seats in the Senate. But with Schumer essentially assuring the GOP that his party will enact a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to break, that now seems to be a pipe dream.
Of course, there is one option Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has at his disposal. It's known as the "nuclear option," rewriting the Senate rules by simple majority to kill the option of filibustering a Supreme Court nominee. Most recently, the Democrats had employed that tactic elsewhere, as former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked it to assist in the confirmation of Obama's judicial and executive nominees.
McConnell, however, is known to be against changing the Senate rules. He told Politico in January the "practice was that you didn't do it even though the tool is in the toolbox."
"There are a lot of tools in there," he said. "Until Bush 43, the filibuster tool was always there. But it wasn't done."
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has expressed to McConnell publicly that he should go "nuclear" if he has to.
"If we end up with that gridlock, I would say, if you can, Mitch, go nuclear," Trump told reporters in February. "Because that would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was caught up in the web. ... So I would say it's up to Mitch, but I would say go for it."
The comments also followed a Wednesday Politico story, in which it was reported that several Democratic senators were considering making a deal with Republicans to confirm Gorsuch. The extractions the Democrats wanted, Politico reported, included a promise not to kill the filibuster for future nominees.
But that seemed like a far-fetched idea, especially considering how many Democrats had already voiced stiff opposition to Gorsuch, a 10th Circuit Court judge. Democrats view the strong opposition as an appropriate response to the thwarting of Obama's choice to fill the vacant seat, Judge Merrick Garland, who's nomination was halted by bstructionist tactics from Republican senators last year.
Also on Thursday, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, a state carried by Trump, also announced he would oppose Gorsuch and join filibustering Democrats.
Justice Samuel Alito was the last Justice forced to clear the 60-vote supermajority in the Senate. But Alito was the only justice in the past 47 years to face such a hurdle, as The Washington Post reported.
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