Trump v. Democrats: A Supreme Court Showdown Looms

Spicer promises 'worthy successor' to Justice Scalia

President Donald Trump speaks at the Republican congressional retreat in Philadelphia on Jan. 26. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Pool)
President Donald Trump speaks at the Republican congressional retreat in Philadelphia on Jan. 26. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Pool)
Posted January 31, 2017 at 5:32pm

 

The White House is expressing confidence that Republicans and Democrats alike will support the Supreme Court nominee that President Donald Trump will announce Tuesday evening. But as an East Room announcement nears, Democrats are warning him to pick a “mainstream” nominee.

“No,” Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Tuesday when asked if the administration expects a major fight with Democrats. “I think that we’ve proven so far the Democrats can try to obstruct. But at the end of the day the will of the American people is going to overcome that.”

 Trump and his aides “have met with senators from both side of the aisle to make sure that we understand what qualities that they are looking for in the next associate justice,” Spicer said. “And I think that we have done a very, very good job of getting a nominee in place, that will be announced tonight, that meets the criteria that they set forth,” even if Democrats don’t agree with the nominee’s “political or philosophical background.”

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Senate Democratic leaders are not ruling out a filibuster, warning the president for weeks that his pick must be within what they define as the “mainstream” of American political or legal thought.

Spicer predicted enough Senate Democrats will “realize that at some point that … having a court that is not fully operational is not … the political fight to have.”

That argument stings a lot of Democrats still seething from the GOP’s decision to hold the seat open for 11 months in order to deprive President Barack Obama the chance to fill the seat last year.

Some Democrats are vowing to fight, and others are playing it cool. For now, at least.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Mass., has vowed an automatic filibuster effort against any high court nominee submitted by Trump.

But Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York is not ready to sign up. “Look, I’m not going to comment on anything about the Supreme Court ’til we see the nominee,” Schumer told CBS, a point he reiterated at the post-Tuesday lunch media availability in the Capitol. Notably, however, Schumer has announced he will vote against many of Trump’s Cabinet-level nominees, as he did with Elaine L. Chao, the wife of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on Tuesday.

As ever, House Democrats have some advice for their Senate colleagues.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York said if Trump’s nominee is “Scalia-esque,” as he expects, he doubts Senate Democrats will provide the votes needed to help Republicans confirm the nominee. The nomination requires 60 votes to move to a final floor vote, meaning if all 52 GOP votes hold, eight Democrats must vote with them.

Before any possible fight and cloture drama will come the announcement, set for 8:02 p.m. (EST) in the White House’s East Room. For those looking for clues as the countdown clock ticks toward 0:00, Spicer might have left a few bread crumbs behind the Brady Room podium.

The seat was vacated by the February 2016 death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, whom Spicer Spicer on Tuesday dubbed a “devotee” to the Constitution.

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“Whomever the president selects,” the press secretary said, “will be a worthy successor to the brilliant legal mind and constitutional dedication of Justice Scalia.”

Neil Gorsuch of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Thomas Hardiman of the 3rd Circuit based in Philadelphia, reportedly, are the finalists. William Pryor of the 11th Circuit also had been in the running late in the administration’s deliberations. All three are solidly conservative judges appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush.

Berate The Press

Spicer also, again, took on a specific media outlet. This time, it was NBC’s turn.

He accused the network of being “part of the confusion” about the White House’s preparation of an executive order Trump signed Friday that “temporarily” bans citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

“You have helped cause this, despite claims that…whatever,” Spicer said, his voice rising, before chiding a NBC reporter for citing another media outlet: “So I apologize that NBC News’s reporting is based on the New York Times’s false reporting.”

Niels Lesniewski and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.