- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court is proving to be a bonding agent between President Trump and conservatives, who despite their misgivings during the campaign say his pick of Judge Neil Gorsuch to join the high court has set the tone for this administration.

When conservative activist Steve Klein was asked how Mr. Trump’s presidency is going, the D.C. lawyer said, “Two words: Neil Gorsuch.”

For Mr. Klein and other activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, the chief campaign promise they wanted Mr. Trump to keep is filling the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat with a big, bold pick. Judge Gorsuch fits the bill.

“I trust Trump to nominate future justices and will fill all 114 vacancies in the lower federal courts with qualified judges,” Mr. Klein said.

A significant number of CPAC attendees agreed: Some 94 percent approved of Judge Gorsuch’s nomination, with 83 percent saying they strongly agreed. Only 2 percent disapproved.

Some activists at CPAC acknowledged that they didn’t support Mr. Trump during the Republican primary race — including a few who said they were “Never Trump” conservatives — but his selection of Judge Gorsuch has helped patch over differences and cemented bonds with his longtime backers.

“He’s pro-life, and he supported Neil Gorsuch. He appointed him to the Supreme Court, and those are the most important single issues to me,” said Charles Owens, 71, a retired pharmacist from Illinois. “I think that many of us were worried that he … wasn’t sincere about appointing pro-life justices and judges, but I think this is the most important appointment he’s made so far, to the Supreme Court.”

But there is still a debate over how Senate Republicans should handle a Democratic filibuster, which would require Judge Gorsuch to receive 60 votes to be confirmed.

Democratic leaders have vowed to attempt a filibuster, and if they hold most of their 48-member caucus in line, they could block Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation. Republicans hold 52 seats, so they would need at least eight Democrats to break party ranks and vote for Mr. Trump’s nominee.

The only other option for Republicans would be to trigger the so-called nuclear option and change the rules, limiting the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees in the same way Democrats did in 2013 for President Obama’s nominees.

Some 75 percent of CPAC attendees said they would want Senate Republicans to go nuclear.

“I have no problem with that,” said Houston activist Pat Stockman. “I’d rather not, but if they want to play politics with a Supreme Court nominee when the Republicans never do that, so be it.”

But Jim Hines, who traveled to CPAC from Michigan, said he would like both sides to work together to confirm a nominee who isn’t polarized.

“I would like politics to stay out of it,” said Mr. Hines.

David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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