Se­nate heads to show­down with start of floor de­bate on Gor­such

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY ALEX SWOYER

The Se­nate voted Tues­day af­ter­noon to of­fi­cially be­gin de­bat­ing the con­fir­ma­tion of Judge Neil Gor­such, putting law­mak­ers ca­reen­ing to­ward a “nu­clear” show­down later this week over Pres­i­dent Trump’s first Supreme Court nom­i­nee.

Just four Democrats joined Repub­li­cans in vot­ing to be­gin the de­bate — the same four who are ex­pected to buck their party’s fili­buster in a vote Thurs­day.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell said if Democrats fili­buster, he will trig­ger the “nu­clear op­tion” short­cut to change Se­nate rules and speed the judge through on a ma­jor­ity vote — fol­low­ing a prece­dent Democrats set in 2013 on then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s lower-court nom­i­nees.

“We’re mov­ing for­ward with the Gor­such nom­i­na­tion to the Supreme Court that should be wrapped up some­time Fri­day. It ap­pears as if clo­ture will not be in­voked, but we’ll find out on Thurs­day. But ei­ther way, we’ll be mov­ing for­ward and con­firm­ing Judge Gor­such on Fri­day,” the Ken­tucky Repub­li­can said.

Once the rules are changed, it would ap­ply to all fu­ture Supreme Court nom­i­nees.

Some Repub­li­cans have said they would like to avoid a change, though even the re­luc­tant ones blame Democrats for driv­ing the show­down, and say the so­lu­tion is for Democrats to forgo fil­i­bus­ter­ing a judge who’s re­ceived ex­cep­tional praise from both lib­eral and con­ser­va­tive le­gal schol­ars.

Two key Repub­li­cans who headed off a nu­clear show­down in 2005 — Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, and Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, South Carolina Repub­li­can — say they’re ready to pull the trig­ger this year, say­ing Democrats have forced the is­sue.

Sen. Su­san M. Collins of Maine, the most lib­eral Repub­li­can in the cham­ber, sug­gested she’s also on board.

“If it’s nec­es­sary in or­der to get him con­firmed, I may have to vote that way, but I cer­tainly don’t want to,” said Ms. Collins.

The Se­nate voted 55-44 to be­gin de­bate on the nom­i­na­tion Tues­day. One Repub­li­can re­cov­er­ing from surgery missed the vote.

The four Democrats who backed Judge Gor­such were Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Vir­ginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Don­nelly of In­di­ana and Michael F. Ben­net of Colorado.

Mean­while, Sen. An­gus S. King Jr., a Maine in­de­pen­dent who’d kept his in­ten­tions se­cret, voted against Judge Gor­such.

Mr. King said he ap­proached the judge’s nom­i­na­tion in­clined to sup­port him be­cause of his ex­cel­lent le­gal back­ground, but the sen­a­tor’s opin­ion soured af­ter Judge Gor­such re­fused to di­vulge how he would vote on hot-but­ton is­sues.

“While at first com­ing across as sin­cere, per­son­able and thought­ful, over time I found that his an­swers seemed, at best, in­creas­ingly eva­sive and, at worst, sim­ply not forth­right,” Mr. King said.

If the num­bers don’t change, Repub­li­cans will come up four votes shy of the 60 needed to stop the fili­buster.

GOP lead­ers would then be left with the choice of ei­ther with­draw­ing the nom­i­na­tion, hop­ing to wait out Democrats and keep Judge Gor­such pend­ing, or to change the 60-vote rule through the nu­clear op­tion.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, the New York Demo­crat who’s lead­ing the fili­buster, pleaded with Repub­li­cans not to go through with the rules change.

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