Top Senate Democrat promises fight to
block Trump high court pick
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[March 24, 2017]
By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. Senate
Democrat on Thursday pledged to pursue a procedural hurdle to try to
block the confirmation of Republican President Donald Trump's Supreme
Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, a move that could provoke a nasty partisan
fight and change the way the Senate does business.
Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the 100-member Senate, leaving
Democrats with an uphill battle to prevent Gorsuch's confirmation. But
Senate rules enable Democrats to insist on 60 votes to overcome a
procedural move called a filibuster to allow a final up-or-down vote on
confirming Gorsuch, 49, to the lifetime job on the nation's highest
Trump has called on Senate Republicans to change the long-standing rules
in order to allow a simple majority vote on confirmation if Democrats
mount a filibuster. If eventually confirmed as expected, the federal
appeals court judge from Colorado would restore a conservative majority
on the nine-seat high court, fulfilling one of Trump's top campaign
As the Judiciary Committee completed its fourth and final day of
Gorsuch's confirmation hearing, the spotlight turned to whether he gains
the support of vulnerable Democratic senators facing re-election in
2018. The support of eight Democrats would short-circuit a filibuster.
"After careful deliberation, I have concluded that I cannot support
Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court," Democratic leader
Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor, a day after Gorsuch finished
marathon Judiciary Committee testimony.
"He will have to earn 60 votes for confirmation. My vote will be 'no,'
and I urge my colleagues to do the same."
White House spokesman Sean Spicer called Schumer's remarks "truly
disappointing" and urged him to abandon the filibuster threat, saying it
was the type of partisanship Americans have grown tired of. Spicer said
Trump, in light of Schumer's comments, would discuss Senate confirmation
strategy with Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Conservative activists have said they have identified 10 possible "yes"
votes for Gorsuch among Democrats seeking 2018 re-election in states
Trump won in the 2016 presidential election.
Democratic Senator Bob Casey, up for re-election in 2018 in one of those
states, Pennsylvania, announced he would vote against Gorsuch and
support a filibuster.
'RIGID AND RESTRICTIVE'
"I don't believe that Judge Gorsuch, his judicial approach, would ensure
fairness for workers and families in Pennsylvania," Casey said,
expressing "serious concerns about Judge Gorsuch's rigid and restrictive
Casey said he was unaware of any discussions among Democrats about a
deal to advance Gorsuch's nomination in return for a guarantee from
Republicans that the next Supreme Court nomination would need 60 votes
to proceed to a Senate confirmation vote.
Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin, facing re-election in Wisconsin next
year, also opposes the nomination, a spokesman said. West Virginia's Joe
Manchin and Florida's Bill Nelson, Democrats facing voters next year,
remain undecided on Gorsuch, their spokesmen told Reuters.
Several Judiciary Committee Democrats, including its top Democrat Dianne
Feinstein, declined to comment on whether they would support a
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U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch testifies during a
third day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on
Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan
Another vote potentially up for grabs is that of Michael Bennet, a
Democrat from Gorsuch's home state of Colorado. He is not up for
re-election next year and his state voted for Democrat Hillary
Clinton in 2016. He introduced Gorsuch to the Judiciary Committee on
Monday, but did not commit to supporting confirmation, promising an
Schumer said if Gorsuch cannot attract 60 votes, "the answer isn't
to change the rules. It's to change the nominee." Schumer said
Gorsuch failed to convince him he would be "an independent check on
a president who has shown almost no restraint from executive
overreach" or that he would be a neutral justice "free from the
biases of politics and ideology."
Democratic committee members on Tuesday and Wednesday pressed
Gorsuch on rulings he participated in that they said showed a
inclination to decide in favor of corporate interests and against
what they called "the little guy." Democrats expressed frustration
about his refusal to answer questions on whether Supreme Court
rulings favoring abortion, contraception and gay rights were
The Judiciary Committee was due to vote on the nomination on April
3. McConnell planned a full Senate confirmation vote before senators
begin a recess on April 7.
On Thursday, the committee heard about six hours of testimony from
witnesses supporting and opposing Gorsuch, including representatives
of the American Bar Association, the lawyers group that evaluates
such nominees and gave Gorsuch its highest rating of "well
Feinstein noted that Merrick Garland, Democratic former President
Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee who the Republican-led Senate
last year refused to consider for confirmation, also earned the
ABA's highest rating.
Another witness was Jeff Perkins, father of an autistic son who
Gorsuch ruled against in 2008 in a special-education dispute using
legal reasoning repudiated by the Supreme Court in a related case on
Perkins said Gorsuch set a "new low standard" for educational
benefits school districts must offer disabled students. "I was
devastated," Perkins said of Gorsuch's ruling.
(Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham, Doina Chiacu, Julia
Edwards Ainsley, Dustin Volz and Timothy Gardner)
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