By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senators Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp on Thursday became the first Democrats to support the confirmation of President Donald Trump‘s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, giving Republicans two of the eight Democratic votes needed to Avoid a nasty fight in the United States Senate below. week.
Both Manchin of West Virginia and Heitkamp of North Dakota are set for reelection next year in the states that voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
“I have no illusions that I agree with every decision that Judge Gorsuch may issue in the future, but I have not found any reason why this jurist should not be a Supreme Court justice,” Manchin said in a statement. Manchin met with the nominee for the second time Wednesday night.
Heitkamp said that Gorsuch “has a track record as a balanced, meticulous and respected jurist who understands the rule of law.”
If confirmed by the Senate to fill a vacancy created by the February 2016 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, Gorsuch, 49, it would restore the conservative majority of nine high court seats.
Senators Maria Cantwell of Washington state, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois said Thursday they would vote against Gorsuch. Their announcements mean that 35 of the 48 Democrats in the 100-seat Senate are opposing Gorsuch, the Colorado-based federal appeals judge nominated by Trump in January for a life seat on the superior court.
Most Democrats have said they would back an effort to block a confirmation vote using a procedural hurdle called obstructionism that requires 60 votes to allow a confirmation vote.
But there are some who are looking to avoid such a move, including Delaware’s Chris Coons.
“I’m open to anyone with a reasonable suggestion on how we might slow down what appears to be an inexorable path to change the rules,” Coons said Thursday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on submitting the nomination to the full Senate on April 3. Senate Republican leaders hope to confirm Gorsuch on April 7.
Republicans control the Senate 52-48, which means they need to win over eight Democrats to block a filibuster. The confirmation vote itself would require a simple majority.
Eleven Democrats, including the Coons, have yet to announce whether they would vote against Gorsuch or support filibuster.
Some Democrats have said Republicans “stole” a Supreme Court seat last year when the Senate refused to consider former Democratic President Barack Obama‘s candidate, Merrick Garland.
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