Schumer Prepared to Hold Supreme Court Seat Open

Minority leader says Democrats will push for ‘mainstream’ nominee

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer lamented a previous rule change by Senate Democrats which allows a president's Cabinet picks to be approved by a simple majority. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is preparing to block President-elect Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee if he or she is not in the “mainstream.”

“It’s hard for me to imagine a nominee that Donald Trump would choose that would get Republican support that we could support,” the New York Democrat told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Tuesday night.

Asked if he would do his best to hold the seat open, Schumer responded, “Absolutely.”

The exchange came after Maddow pointed out that any high court nominee might be unacceptable to Democrats, citing Senate Republicans’ stonewalling of President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland. She also mentioned Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley’s accusation that Republicans stole a seat on the Supreme Court.

Schumer said Democrats are going to push for a “mainstream” nominee. He noted that Supreme Court nominees are subject to a filibuster, meaning 60 votes are necessary to end debate on the nomination. Republicans hold 52 seats in the new Congress, meaning some Democrats would have to back Trump’s pick for the nomination to move forward.

“If they don’t appoint someone who’s really good, we’re going to oppose him tooth and nail,” the minority leader said. “They won’t have 60 votes to put in an out-of-the-mainstream nominee.”

Schumer said Republicans may be faced with a choice to change Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. But he said it would be “very hard” for Republicans to do so given that some GOP senators do not want to alter the chamber’s rules. 

Other presidential nominees are not subject to a filibuster due to Senate Democrats’ move to change the rules in 2013. “Wish it hadn’t happened,” Schumer said of the change in an interview Tuesday on CNN

Now a simple majority can approve Trump’s Cabinet selections and other judicial nominees, meaning Democrats cannot block Trump’s picks if Republicans remain united. But Democrats still have leverage when it comes to Supreme Court nominees, and Schumer said they intend to use it. 

“We are not going to make it easy for them to pick a Supreme Court justice,” he told MSNBC.

Schumer and other Senate Democrats slammed Senate Republicans’ choice to not consider Garland’s nomination last year. Republicans refused to hold hearings or a vote on Garland, arguing that the American people should choose the direction of the court through the presidential election.

Democrats accused Republicans of shirking their constitutional duty to provide advice and consent on a president’s nominees. They also argued that a persistent vacancy on the Supreme Court harmed the body’s ability to function.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Contact Bowman at bridgetbowman@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter @bridgetbhc.

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