Politics

Survey: Democratic Aides Doubt Senate Can Block SCOTUS Nominee

Staffers overwhelmingly expect Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed

Judge Neil Gorsuch meets with North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in her Hart building office on Feb. 8. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Liberal advocacy groups are spending lots of time and money organizing for what they hope will be a big fight over President Donald Trump’s choice to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch.

They might be disheartened to learn that Democratic congressional aides don’t think they can block him.

Of the Democratic staffers who responded to CQ Roll Call’s most recent Capitol Insiders Survey, 91 percent said Gorsuch would be confirmed. At the same time, only 41 percent — a plurality — expect that Democratic senators will even bother to filibuster the nomination. Every Republican aide who filled out the poll said Gorsuch will soon have a seat on the Supreme Court.

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“There’s a disconnect between the Democrats who work on the Hill and the Democrats out marching,” said Kevin Murphy, a former aide to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat. “It doesn’t seem like Democrats [on Capitol Hill] have an appetite for a fight.”

Democrats remain angry about their Republican counterparts’ decision last year to sit on President Barack Obama’s high court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, to replace deceased Justice Antonin Scalia.

But they are facing a hard reality: the Democrats’ only chance to stop Gorsuch is a filibuster. And if Democrats go that route, Republicans can simply change the rules and confirm Gorsuch on a simple majority vote, as the Democratic Senate majority did for lower-court judges and executive branch nominees in 2013.

Fifty-nine percent of the Democratic survey respondents to the survey said they expected the Republicans would make changes during this Congress to the filibuster rule, either for Supreme Court nominees, legislation or both.

CQ Roll Call emailed the survey to aides on Feb. 21 and gave them until Feb. 28 to respond. In total, 163 aides filled out the questionnaire, including 65 Democrats, 94 Republicans and four independents.

Trump also undermined Democratic opposition to his Supreme Court nominee by picking Gorsuch, a respected appeals court judge with no paper trail on the abortion issue. Democrats know that if Republican senators allow a filibuster to stand, Trump could choose someone further to the right.

Trump “made a good pick, and if they tank him, who’s next?” asked Sam Geduldig, a onetime aide to former House Speaker John A. Boehner. Geduldig is now a partner at the CGCN Group, a Republican lobbying firm.

In other ways, too, the survey results indicate that Democrats on Capitol Hill may not be showing the same resolve as the anti-Trump protesters in the streets. The percentage of Democratic aides saying they’d prefer to block the Trump agenda rather than seek areas of compromise has declined from 51 percent to 48 percent since CQ Roll Call first asked the question after the election.

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Separately, 53 percent of the Democratic aides said they would cut deals with Trump if they would benefit the country, rather than forgo them to protest his presidency.

That might not go over well with the people flooding town hall meetings, who’ve made it clear they expect Democratic senators to do everything they can to block Trump’s nominees. “I have not gotten a strong sense from activists that there are any areas where they think compromise with Trump is appropriate,” said Vanessa Williamson, a fellow at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution who’s following the protest movement.

That said, when asked about the one issue on which compromise seems plausible — a big infrastructure bill — the Democratic aides are not enthusiastic. Only 16 percent of the respondents said they thought it “somewhat likely” that Trump would keep his pledge to secure a $1 trillion deal to repair highways and bridges, while 84 percent said it was either “somewhat unlikely” or “very unlikely.”

Still, the Democratic aides foresee disaster on a number of other policy debates on which their liberal base holds passionate views.

Ninety-six percent of the Democratic respondents predict that the Keystone XL pipeline will now be built, connecting Canada’s tar sands with refineries in Texas. Eighty-six percent think Trump will figure out how to ban, at least temporarily, people from certain predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. And 66 percent predict Republicans will succeed in defunding Planned Parenthood, the women’s health care provider that offers abortion services. In each case, a majority of Republican aides agreed.

In a rare bright note for Democrats, only a quarter of Democratic aides think Republicans will now succeed in repealing and replacing the 2010 health care law. But that contrasts sharply with the view of the Republican staffers who took the poll. Ninety-one percent of them said the law would be repealed and replaced.

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