Politics

McConnell Leaves Door Open on Supreme Court Nuclear Option

McConnell said he wants Trump‘s nominee in place before April

McConnell is the GOP leader. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell left open the possibility of altering Senate rules on Supreme Court nominations to lower the threshold for ending debate, which would gut the minority’s influence over high court confirmations.

“I’m not going to answer that,” the Kentucky Republican said in a Fox News interview Tuesday night when asked if he would invoke the so-called nuclear option, in which the GOP majority would change the rules on its own rather than with a supermajority of senators.

Though he did not answer the direct question relating to changing the filibuster rule, McConnell said three times, “We’re going to get the judge confirmed.”

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McConnell’s comments came just a few hours after President Donald Trump announced U.S. Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch as his pick for the Supreme Court. McConnell said Tuesday night that he would like to have Gorsuch confirmed before April.

The seat on the court had been vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. McConnell led Republicans in blocking action on former President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the seat, Judge Merrick Garland, arguing the American people would decide the direction of the court through the presidential election.

The move drew the ire of Democrats, who accused Republicans of shirking their constitutional duty to provide advice and consent on judicial nominees. 

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Democratic reaction was mixed Tuesday night, with some of the more liberal members already declaring that they would vote against Goresuch, and others saying they had concerns about some of his positions, but would carefully consider his record.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, signaled in a statement that Democrats would likely demand a cloture vote  on Gorsuch’s nomination, which would require 60 votes to end debate. If all 48 Democrats remain united, they could block Gorsuch’s nomination through the cloture vote.

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“The Senate must insist upon 60 votes for any Supreme Court nominee, a bar that was met by each of President Obama’s nominees,” Schumer said. The New York Democrat said Gorsuch must prove he is in “the legal mainstream.”

According to the Congressional Research Service, cloture votes on Supreme Court nominees have only occurred four times, most recently in 2006 during Justice Samuel Alito’s confirmation process. 

McConnell stopped short Tuesday night of saying whether Republicans could convince eight Democrats to overcome a filibuster of Gorsuch’s nomination.

“We’ll find out won’t we?” said McConnell. He also said he was going to give Democrats an opportunity to meet with Judge Neil Gorsuch and examine his record.

“I’m hoping at the end of the day they’ll conclude that this nominee should be given what we call an up and down vote, that is not stopped on a procedural vote,” McConnell said.

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