By Lawrence Hurley and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate moved toward approving President Donald Trump‘s Supreme Court nominee this week as its top Republican said he has the votes to remove Democratic roadblocks but vowed to preserve the ability of the minority party to resist. legislation.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to change old Senate rules to remove the ability to use a procedural roadblock called filibuster against Supreme Court nominees like Trump’s pick Neil Gorsuch if a Democratic filibuster is successful. as expected in blocking a confirmation vote.
The Senate’s confirmation of Gorsuch, 49, to the lifetime seat would restore the court’s conservative majority and allow Trump to make a lasting mark on America’s highest judicial body, even as he regularly criticizes the federal judiciary.
McConnell said he had the necessary votes to pass the rule change with a simple majority vote, expected Thursday. Republicans control the Senate 52-48. The rule change has been dubbed the “nuclear option” and Trump has encouraged McConnell to “go nuclear.”
Such a step would threaten to further erode trust between the parties in Congress.
“There is a reason they call it the nuclear option, and it is because there are consequences. And these consequences will be dangerously and perhaps disastrously radioactive for the Senate in the coming years,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters.
Republicans were so confident that they can use their strength to pass the rule change that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said flatly that Gorsuch “will be in the Supreme Court on Friday night.”
Amid a fierce debate over Gorsuch and the legendary Senate rules, McConnell tried to quell any speculation that the Republicans would carry out a monumental takeover by ending the obstructionist legislation.
McConnell said that as long as he is the Senate Majority Leader, he will never remove the ability to mount filibuster against legislation, unlike in presidential appointments. McConnell fought many of the legislative initiatives of former Democratic President Barack Obama when Republicans were the minority party in the Senate.
“There is not a single senator in the (Republican) majority who thinks we should change the legislative obstructionism, not a single one,” McConnell told reporters.
The move to change the venerable Senate rules reflects an intensification of already toxic partisanship in Washington since Trump took office in January.
McConnell’s promise to maintain obstructionist legislation capacity could make it difficult for Republicans to get key parts of Trump’s legislative agenda in the Senate, considering the strong Democratic opposition that is expected.
An obstructionism requires a supermajority of 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to proceed to a simple majority vote on a Supreme Court candidate or legislation.
The 60-vote supermajority threshold that gives the minority party power to sustain the majority party has over the decades forced the Senate to try to achieve bipartisanship in legislation and presidential appointments.
On Tuesday, the Senate began its formal debate on the confirmation of Gorsuch, a Colorado-based appellate court judge, and McConnell said it would set the clock ticking toward a vote expected Thursday to stop filibusters. Democrats. On Monday, Democrats racked up the votes needed to sustain the filibuster, prompting Republicans to change the rules.
The filibuster in one form or another dates back to the 19th century, but assumed its current form in the 1970s.
The Democrats were the first to use the “nuclear option.” In 2013, when they controlled the Senate, they changed it to ban filibusters for executive branch nominees and federal judges, in addition to Supreme Court justices. They did so after Republicans screened Obama’s appellate court candidates.
“Democrats are now being pressured by far-left interest groups to do something really damaging to this body and to our country,” McConnell said in the Senate. “It seems this time they are rushing into the abyss and trying to take the Senate with them.”
Senate Top Democrat Chuck Schumer, who led the obstructionist effort, said Republicans have the responsibility for the crisis and for deciding, as he put it, “to break the rules.”
He noted that the Senate, under McConnell’s leadership, last year refused to consider Obama’s nomination of Appellate Judge Merrick Garland to fill the same vacancy in the high court that Trump selected Gorsuch to fill.
“What the Majority Leader did to Merrick Garland by denying him even a hearing and a vote is even worse than filibuster,” Schumer said in the Senate.
Restoring the conservative majority of the nine-seat high court would fulfill one of Trump’s main promises during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Republicans say Gorsuch is well qualified for the job and there is no principled reason to oppose him. Democrats say he is so conservative as to be out of the judicial stream, has favored corporate interests over ordinary Americans in his legal views, and has demonstrated insufficient independence from Trump.