- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2017

President Trump urged Republicans on Wednesday to be prepared to trigger the nuclear option to get his Supreme Court pick confirmed, but party leaders said they hope to avoid a messy fight and approve Judge Neil Gorsuch without having to resort to a constitutional showdown.

Judge Gorsuch made the rounds on Capitol Hill, meeting with senators of both parties and trying to earn early support for what is likely to be a monthslong confirmation battle.

Republicans say they already have more than a dozen Democrats whom they consider prime targets to pressure — most of them up for re-election next year in states carried by Mr. Trump in the November presidential election.

But Democratic leaders are talking tough. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York has confirmed that he will lead a filibuster. He said it’s “essential” that any Supreme Court nominee be forced to cross a 60-vote threshold.

“On a subject as important as a Supreme Court nomination, bipartisan support is essential and should be a prerequisite — 60 votes does that,” he said.

If Democrats do muster enough votes to sustain a filibuster, it would trigger an epic showdown over the “nuclear option,” the term for a shortcut to change the rules and eliminate the 60-vote requirement. Democrats used the tactic in 2013 for all other judicial nominees but left the Supreme Court untouched.

Now Republicans are debating whether to go nuclear.

Mr. Trump said the decision ultimately rests with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, but he urged the party to be prepared to pull the trigger.

“That would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was put up to that neglect,” Mr. Trump said. “I would say it’s up to Mitch, but I would say, ‘Go for it.’”

Mr. Trump picked Judge Gorsuch on Tuesday night, and Republicans unanimously praised the 49-year-old jurist as a brilliant legal mind.

Liberal lawyers agreed that the judge, who has served a decade on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, had the legal qualifications for the high court.

Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, said in a New York Times op-ed that Judge Gorsuch “brings a sense of fairness and decency to the job, and a temperament that suits the nation’s highest court.”

On Capitol Hill, though, Democrats injected an ideological element into the debate, saying they feared the judge would tilt the balance of the court in a direction they didn’t want.

“Judge Neil Gorsuch, throughout his career, has repeatedly sided with corporations over working people, demonstrated a hostility toward women’s rights and, most troubling, hewed to an ideological approach to jurisprudence that makes me skeptical that he can be a strong, independent justice on the court,” Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Schumer said both of President Obama’s nominees for the Supreme Court received more than 60 votes, though Republicans pointed out that they never attempted to filibuster either of them.

Indeed, the only partisan filibuster attempt in history was in 2006, when Democrats — including Mr. Schumer — tried to block Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. They were unsuccessful, and he was ultimately confirmed with fewer than 60 votes.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee that will review Judge Gorsuch, said Democrats won’t “bow down” to Mr. Trump’s pressure.

“This Congress needs to stand on its own. We are a separate branch of government, we do have our ideals, many of us are experienced and have been here for a while, and I don’t want to see the Senate of the United States bow down to an executive demand like this,” Mrs. Feinstein said on MSNBC.

Republicans pointed to Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation by voice vote a decade ago and demanded that Democrats explain what had changed. Democrats countered that a promotion to the Supreme Court would require more careful scrutiny.

Democrats also say Republicans should suffer for having blocked Mr. Obama’s pick for the seat, Judge Merrick Garland. That could “create even more difficulties for Judge Gorsuch,” said Elliot Mincberg, a senior fellow at People for the American Way.

Liberal groups are pressuring Democrats to oppose the judge’s nomination, even as conservative groups are trying to rally support.

The conservative Judicial Crisis Network has launched $2 million in television and digital ads to support the nomination, targeting airwaves in Missouri, North Dakota, Indiana, and Montana.

Each of those states was won by Mr. Trump and is home to a Democratic senator up for re-election next year. Also on the Republican target list for potential Democratic support are senators from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Virginia and Delaware.

Carrie Severino, chief counsel at JCN, said her organization “will ultimately force vulnerable senators to choose between obstructing and keeping their Senate seats.”

She said Judge Gorsuch has had bipartisan support in the past and is “a fair and independent judge.”

“Some Democrats may be tempted to obstruct his nomination, but we have already launched a robust campaign in key states,” said Ms. Severino.

David Sherfinski and Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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