- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Senate voted Tuesday afternoon to officially begin debating the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch, putting lawmakers careening toward a “nuclear” showdown later this week over President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee.

Just four Democrats joined Republicans in voting to begin the debate — the same four who are expected to buck their party’s filibuster in a vote Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said if Democrats filibuster, he will trigger the “nuclear option” shortcut to change Senate rules and speed the judge through on a majority vote — following a precedent Democrats set in 2013 on then-President Barack Obama’s lower-court nominees.

“We’re moving forward with the Gorsuch nomination to the Supreme Court that should be wrapped up sometime Friday. It appears as if cloture will not be invoked, but we’ll find out on Thursday. But either way, we’ll be moving forward and confirming Judge Gorsuch on Friday,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Once the rules are changed, it would apply to all future Supreme Court nominees.

Some Republicans have said they would like to avoid a change, though even the reluctant ones blame Democrats for driving the showdown, and say the solution is for Democrats to forgo filibustering a judge who’s received exceptional praise from both liberal and conservative legal scholars.

Two key Republicans who headed off a nuclear showdown in 2005 — Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican — say they’re ready to pull the trigger this year, saying Democrats have forced the issue.

Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, the most liberal Republican in the chamber, suggested she’s also on board.

“If it’s necessary in order to get him confirmed, I may have to vote that way, but I certainly don’t want to,” said Ms. Collins.

The Senate voted 55-44 to begin debate on the nomination Tuesday. One Republican recovering from surgery missed the vote.

The four Democrats who backed Judge Gorsuch were Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Michael F. Bennet of Colorado.

Meanwhile, Sen. Angus S. King Jr., a Maine independent who’d kept his intentions secret, voted against Judge Gorsuch.

Mr. King said he approached the judge’s nomination inclined to support him because of his excellent legal background, but the senator’s opinion soured after Judge Gorsuch refused to divulge how he would vote on hot-button issues.

“While at first coming across as sincere, personable and thoughtful, over time I found that his answers seemed, at best, increasingly evasive and, at worst, simply not forthright,” Mr. King said.

If the numbers don’t change, Republicans will come up four votes shy of the 60 needed to stop the filibuster.

GOP leaders would then be left with the choice of either withdrawing the nomination, hoping to wait out Democrats and keep Judge Gorsuch pending, or to change the 60-vote rule through the nuclear option.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who’s leading the filibuster, pleaded with Republicans not to go through with the rules change.

He said both sides have spiraled into attacks, and suggested the filibuster was acceptable retaliation for the GOP’s treatment of Mr. Obama’s nominee last year, Judge Merrick Garland, whom Republicans denied a hearing, much less a vote.

“We lost one, they lost one,” Mr. Schumer said. “We should now get in a room and come up with a compromise to avoid the nuclear option that so many Republicans are reluctant to take.”

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