Tim Kaine Predicts Possible ‘Nuclear Option’ Over Supreme Court Nomination

But Merrick Garland could get vote after election, Democratic VP candidate says

Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine said there is a "significant likelihood" that Judge Merrick Garland would get a vote in the Senate by the end of the year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine is joining those predicting that his fellow Senate Democrats will force through changes to the chamber’s rules to ensure confirmation of a potential Supreme Court pick next year.

Should the Virginia Democrat and ticket mate Hillary Clinton win next month, he could make pivotal procedural decisions in such a “nuclear option” standoff after Jan. 20, since the vice president also serves as president of the Senate and has the option to preside.

The “nuclear option” describes efforts to change the Senate’s rules to decide on an issue with a simple majority of senators and bypass the customary procedure requiring a two-thirds vote to overcome filibuster threats.

In an interview with The Huffington Post on the campaign trail in Ohio, Kaine offered up what he called a “prediction” about what may play out if the nomination of President Barack Obama's Supreme Court pick, Judge Merrick Garland, isn’t considered during the post-election lame duck session.

“We will change the Senate rules to uphold the law, that the court will be nine members,” Kaine said, pointing out that he will be serving in the Senate at least into January.

“I was in the Senate when the Republicans’ stonewalling around appointments caused Senate Democratic majority to switch the vote threshold on appointments from 60 to 51. And we did it on everything but a Supreme Court justice,” Kaine said. “If these guys think they’re going to stonewall the filling of that vacancy or other vacancies, then a Democratic Senate majority will say, ‘We’re not going to let you thwart the law.’”

Retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid worked those procedural changes as majority leader back in 2013. And the Nevada Democrat has suggested his party could be prepared to go further next year.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat in line to succeed Reid, has called getting a progressive majority on the Supreme Court his top goal, should his party gain control of the Senate in 2017.

[Schumer Calls Progressive Supreme Court His 'Number One Goal']

But the Kaine prediction comes with some serious caveats. For one, the Clinton-Kaine ticket would need to win the White House. Second, Senate Democrats would need to win the seats needed to at least get to a 50-50 tie, at which point the vice president (likely Kaine, but potentially still Joseph R. Biden Jr., would be able to make the parliamentary rulings and break ties).

And the threats may not need to come to pass, either.

“I think there’s still a significant likelihood that Merrick Garland will get a vote before the end of the year,” Kaine said.

Fissures appear to be emerging among GOP senators about what to do about the Garland nomination after the election, particularly if Clinton defeats Republican rival Donald Trump to keep the presidency in Democratic hands.

“The battle is: Do we want a lawfully constituted full court or will we let the Republicans have a hobbled, limited and weakened court?” Kaine told The Huffington Post. “The voters are going to stop them, or we’re going to stop them.”

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