By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. Senate Democrat on Thursday pledged to pursue a procedural hurdle to try to block the confirmation of Republican President Donald Trump‘s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, a move that could provoke an ugly partisan fight and change the way the Senate does business.
Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the 100-member Senate, leaving Democrats with an uphill battle to avoid Gorsuch’s confirmation. But Senate rules allow Democrats to insist on 60 votes to overcome a procedural measure called obstructionism to allow a final vote for or against to confirm Gorsuch, 49, for the lifetime seat on the highest court in the US. the nation. (To see a graph on Gorsuch’s confirmation, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2nANgEj)
Trump has asked Senate Republicans to change long-standing rules to allow a simple majority on confirmation if Democrats mount filibuster. If ultimately confirmed as expected, the Colorado federal appeals court judge would reestablish a conservative majority in the nine-seat high court, fulfilling one of Trump’s top campaign promises.
As the Judiciary Committee completed its fourth and final day of Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, attention turned to whether he wins the support of vulnerable Democratic senators facing re-election in 2018. The support of eight Democrats would short-circuit a obstructionism.
“After careful deliberation, I have concluded that I cannot support the nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court,” Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in the Senate, a day after Gorsuch finished the testimony marathon before the Judiciary Committee. .
“He will have to get 60 votes for confirmation. My vote will be ‘no’, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer called Schumer’s remarks “really disappointing” and urged him to drop the obstructionist threat, saying it was the kind of partisanship Americans have grown weary of. Spicer said Trump, in light of Schumer’s comments, would discuss the Senate confirmation strategy with Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Conservative activists have said they have identified 10 possible “yes” votes for Gorsuch among Democrats seeking 2018 reelection in states Trump won in the 2016 presidential election.
Democratic Senator Bob Casey, a candidate for reelection in 2018 in one of those states, Pennsylvania, announced that he would vote against Gorsuch and support filibuster.
‘RIGID AND RESTRICTIVE’
“I do not believe that Judge Gorsuch, his judicial approach, guarantees fairness for workers and families in Pennsylvania,” Casey said, expressing “serious concerns about Judge Gorsuch’s rigid and restrictive judicial philosophy.”
Casey said he was not aware of discussions among Democrats about a deal to promote Gorsuch’s nomination in exchange for a guarantee from Republicans that the next Supreme Court nomination would need 60 votes to proceed to a confirmation vote in the Senate.
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who faces re-election in Wisconsin next year, also opposes the nomination, a spokesperson said. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bill Nelson of Florida, Democrats who will face voters next year, remain undecided about Gorsuch, their spokesmen told Reuters.
Several Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, including their top Democrat Dianne Feinstein, declined to comment on whether they would support filibuster.
Another vote potentially at stake is that of Michael Bennet, a Democrat from the home state of Gorsuch, Colorado. He is not ready for reelection next year and his state voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. He introduced Gorsuch to the Judiciary Committee on Monday, but did not promise to support confirmation, promising an “open mind.”
Schumer said that if Gorsuch cannot attract 60 votes, “the answer is not to change the rules. It is to change the nominee.” Schumer said Gorsuch failed to convince him that he would be “an independent check on a president who has shown almost no restriction on executive overreach” or that he would be a neutral judge “free from the biases of politics and ideology.”
Members of the Democratic committee on Tuesday and Wednesday lobbied Gorsuch on the rulings in which he participated, which they said showed an inclination to decide in favor of corporate interests and against what they called “the little one.” Democrats expressed frustration at his refusal to answer questions about whether the Supreme Court rulings in favor of abortion, contraception and gay rights were decided correctly.
The Judicial Committee was due to vote on the nomination on April 3. McConnell planned a full Senate confirmation vote before senators began a recess on April 7.
On Thursday, the committee heard about six hours of testimony from witnesses who supported and opposed Gorsuch, including representatives from the American Bar Association, the group of lawyers that evaluates such nominees and gave Gorsuch its highest rating of ” well qualified “.
Feinstein noted that Merrick Garland, former Democratic President Barack Obama‘s Supreme Court nominee who the Republican-led Senate last year declined to consider for confirmation, also earned the highest rating from the ABA.
Another witness was Jeff Perkins, the father of an autistic son against whom Gorsuch ruled in a 2008 special education dispute using legal reasoning repudiated by the Supreme Court in a related case Wednesday.
Perkins said Gorsuch set a “new low standard” for the educational benefits that school districts must offer to students with disabilities. “I was devastated,” Perkins said of Gorsuch’s decision.