Democrats vow fight on Supreme Court nominee, Trump urges ‘nuclear option’

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By Richard Cowan | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON President Donald Trump on Wednesday
urged Senate Republicans to “go nuclear” and invoke a rule
change to force a simple majority vote toward confirmation if
Democrats block his U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, as
Democrats maneuvered for a tough fight.

Gorsuch and Vice President Mike Pence met with Senate
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a day after Trump nominated the
federal appeals court judge from Colorado for a lifetime job on
the nation’s highest court.

Trump’s fellow Republicans control the Senate 52-48.
Democrats signaled on Wednesday that they would set up a
procedural hurdle, known as a filibuster, that would require 60
votes, rather than a simple majority, to move toward
confirmation of Gorsuch.

The president urged McConnell to change long-standing Senate
rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, a
move some have dubbed the “nuclear option,” if Democrats block
Gorsuch.

“We want to have him go through an elegant process as
opposed to a demeaning process, because they’re very demeaning
on the other side, and they want to make you look as bad as
possible,” Trump said of Gorsuch, referring to the Democrats.

“If we end up with that gridlock, I would say, ‘If you can,
Mitch, go nuclear,” Trump said at a White House meeting with
conservative activists, a business group and the National Rifle
Association gun rights group, who all supported the nomination.

Under the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court nominations
require Senate confirmation.

If confirmed, Gorsuch would reinstate the Supreme Court’s
conservative majority, which had existed for decades before
Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last Feb. 13. That shift could
prove to be pivotal on a range of issues, including presidential
powers, the death penalty and transgender, abortion, regulation,
gun control and religious rights.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate
floor that if Gorsuch cannot meet the same standard that
Republicans insisted upon for Democratic President Barack
Obama’s Supreme Court nominees – 60 votes in the Senate – “then
the problem lies not with the Senate, but with the nominee.”

“The answer should not be to change the rules of the Senate,
but to change the nominee to someone who can earn 60 votes.
Sixty votes produces a mainstream candidate,” Schumer added.

The senator said that while Trump campaigned as someone who
would “be for the working man and woman,” he has chosen a
Supreme Court nominee who “sides with CEOs over citizens.”

In early January, Schumer raised the possibility of
Democrats fighting to keep the seat vacant rather than let the
Senate confirm Trump’s nominee.

‘WE’RE ALL THRILLED’

Gorsuch’s meeting with McConnell at his office was his first
of a round of customary meetings with senators by a Supreme
Court nominee to build support for confirmation.

“We’re all thrilled and looking forward to getting this
confirmation process started,” said McConnell, who last year
refused to let the Republican-led Senate hold confirmation
hearings or a vote on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick
Garland.

Some Democratic senators, arguing that Republicans stole a
Supreme Court seat from Obama, announced opposition to Gorsuch,
while others said they were willing to hear him out.

“Unfortunately, Judge Gorsuch has proven to have a judicial
philosophy outside of the mainstream and time and again has
subjugated individual rights to those of corporations,” said
Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who came out in
opposition to the nomination.

Gorsuch is known for backing religious rights and writing
against euthanasia and assisted suicide. At 49, he is the
youngest Supreme Court selection in more than a quarter century.

Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat, said a Supreme
Court nominee should have to win the support of 60 senators but
urged fellow Democrats to give Gorsuch a chance. Manchin, whose
home state of West Virginia voted overwhelmingly for Trump last
November is up for re-election in 2018.

Manchin also noted that Gorsuch was approved by the Senate
with no opposition when Republican President George W. Bush
nominated him to the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals in 2006.

“I think it should be 60 votes for our Supreme Court,”
Manchin said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. “I think at the
highest court of the land it should be where we’re coming
together as Americans, not continue to divide us. And with that
being said, let’s give the man a chance. Talk to him.”

Gorsuch was scheduled to meet with Manchin later in the day.

Senate aides said Republicans were hoping the Senate
Judiciary Committee holds hearings and votes on the nomination
by late March, paving the way for approval by the full Senate in
the first week of April. If that happens, Gorsuch could be on
the high court for a major transgender rights case.



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