The Senate is careening toward a 'nuclear' fight

Neil gorsuchChip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesNeil Gorsuch testifying in front of Congress.

Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination faces a key test this week that could put him on the bench or, in an unlikely scenario, force President Donald Trump to withdraw the judge’s nomination.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to move the judge’s nomination forward on Monday, setting the stage for a showdown that many observers expect will result in the elimination of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations.

Three Democrats up for reelection in 2018 have promised to vote for Gorsuch’s confirmation. And on Monday, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado also said he would oppose a filibuster. But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has predicted that the judge will not hit the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster.

If Democrats attempt to block Gorsuch’s nomination using the filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to invoked the “nuclear” option, eliminating it altogether for Supreme Court nominees.

Speaking to “Meet The Press” on Sunday, McConnell pointed to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 2013 elimination of the filibuster for most presidential nominations in the face of Republican opposition to President Barack Obama’s selections.

“What I can tell you is that Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week,” McConnell said. “How that happens really depends on our Democratic friends, how many of them are willing to oppose cloture on a partisan basis to kill a Supreme Court nominee, never happened before in history, the whole history of the country.”

Speaking to “Meet The Press” just minutes later, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused McConnell of breaking precedent, saying Republicans refused to hold a vote to confirm Judge Merrick Garland, who many Republican lawmakers previously praised. Obama nominated Garland to the court in early 2016 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Schumer also urged McConnell to uphold the filibuster and find a more centrist nominee that could appeal to lawmakers from both parties.

“Instead of changing the rules, which is up to Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority, why doesn’t President Trump, Democrats, and Republicans in the Senate, sit down, and try to come up with a mainstream nominee?” Schumer said. “Look, when a nominee doesn’t get 60 votes, you shouldn’t change the rules, you should change the nominee.”

Some Democratic lawmakers have conceded that Gorsuch is qualified to serve on the court. But they have felt increasing pressure from progressive activists to oppose his nomination because of his conservative rulings on key issues like businesses’ religious freedom and executive authority.

Pro-choice groups like NARAL have aggressively opposed Gorsuch’s nomination, vowing not to endorse any Democrat who votes to confirm the judge.

Many of the same activists have attempted to voice their displeasure in front of conservative lawmakers.

“I’m going to vote for Judge Gorsuch, I think he’s a highly qualified man,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said at a town hall, eliciting a chorus of boos. “I will vote for him because I think of a better person a Republican could’ve chosen.”

When an audience member shouted Garland’s name, the senator quipped: “When I hear a Democrat complain about Merrick Garland, it’s almost like an arsonist complaining about a fire.”

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