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U.S. Senate Republican leader starts clock ticking to Gorsuch showdown


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U.S. Senate Republican leader starts clock ticking to Gorsuch showdown

By Lawrence Hurley and Richard Cowan

REUTERS

 

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FILE PHOTO -- U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch testifies during a third day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate moved on Tuesday towards ramming through approval of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee this week, as its top Republican said he has the votes to wipe away Democratic roadblocks but vowed to preserve the minority party's ability to hold up legislation.

 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to change the Senate's long-standing rules in order to eliminate the ability to use a procedural hurdle called a filibuster against Supreme Court nominees like Trump's pick Neil Gorsuch, if a Democratic filibuster succeeds as expected in blocking a confirmation vote.

 

Senate confirmation of Gorsuch, 49, to the lifetime post would restore the court's conservative majority and enable Trump to leave a lasting imprint on America's highest judicial body even as he regularly criticizes the federal judiciary.

 

McConnell said he had the necessary votes to approve the rule change with a simple majority vote, expected on Thursday. Republicans control the Senate 52-48. The rule change has been dubbed the "nuclear option," and Trump has encouraged McConnell to "go nuclear."

 

Such a step would threaten to further erode trust between the parties in Congress.

 

"There's a reason they call it the nuclear option, and that is because there's fallout. And this fallout will be dangerously and perhaps disastrously radioactive for the Senate for years to come," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters.

 

Republicans were so confident they can use their muscle to pass the rule change that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said flatly that Gorsuch "will be on the Supreme Court Friday night."

 

Amid a fierce debate over both Gorsuch and the Senate's storied rules, McConnell tried to tamp down any speculation that Republicans would stage a monumental power grab by ending the filibuster for legislation.

 

McConnell said that as long as he is the Senate's majority leader he would never remove the ability to mount a filibuster against legislation, as opposed to presidential appointments. McConnell fought against many of Democratic former President Barack Obama's legislative initiatives when Republicans were the minority party in the Senate.

 

"There's not a single senator in the (Republican) majority who thinks we ought to change the legislative filibuster, not one," McConnell told reporters.

 

The move to change venerable Senate rules reflects an intensifying of the already-toxic partisanship in Washington since Trump took office in January.

 

McConnell's promise to keep the ability to filibuster legislation could make it more difficult for Republicans to get key parts of Trump's legislative agenda through the Senate, considering the expected strong Democratic opposition.

A filibuster requires a super-majority of 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate in order to proceed to a simple majority vote on a Supreme Court nominee or legislation.

The 60-vote super-majority threshold that gives the minority party power to hold up the majority party has over the decades forced the Senate to try to achieve bipartisanship in legislation and presidential appointments.

 

The Senate on Tuesday kicked off its formal debate on confirming Gorsuch, a Colorado-based appeals court judge, and McConnell said he would get the clock ticking towards a vote expected on Thursday to stop the Democrats' filibuster. Democrats on Monday amassed the votes needed to sustain the filibuster, prompting Republicans to move towards changing the rules.

 

The filibuster in one form or another dates back to the 19th century but assumed its current form in the 1970s.

 

The Democrats were the first to use the "nuclear option." In 2013, when they controlled the Senate, they changed it to bar filibusters for executive branch nominees and federal judges aside from Supreme Court justices. They did so after Republicans filibustered Obama's appeals court nominees.

 

"Democrats are now being pushed by far-left interest groups into doing something truly detrimental to this body and to our country," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "They seem to be hurtling towards the abyss this time, and trying to take the Senate with them."

 

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, leading the filibuster effort, said it was the Republicans who bear responsibility for the crisis and for deciding, as he said, to "break the rules."

 

He noted that the Senate, under McConnell's guidance, refused last year to consider Obama's nomination of appellate judge Merrick Garland to fill the same high court vacancy that Trump has selected Gorsuch to fill.

 

"What the majority leader did to Merrick Garland by denying him even a hearing and a vote is even worse than a filibuster," Schumer said on the Senate floor.

 

Restoring the nine-seat high court's conservative majority would fulfil one of Trump's top promises during the 2016 presidential campaign.

 

Republicans say Gorsuch is well qualified for the job and that there is no principled reason to oppose him. Democrats say he is so conservative as to be outside the judicial mainstream, has favoured corporate interests over ordinary Americans in legal opinions, and has shown insufficient independence from Trump.

 

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Will Dunham)

 
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-- © Copyright Reuters 2017-04-05
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3 hours ago, Emster23 said:

Where were you keeping that clock for the 9 months or so when Obama sent a nomination for SCOTUS, Mitch?

All Obama had to do was submit a qualified worthwhile nominee.  'Would've been a complete waste of the Senate's time to debate and then predictably fail to confirm Garland.   Garland was never more than a cynical play by Obama to try and score a few last-minute election points for the dems by forcing the Senate's hand into rejecting his lame duck appointee.  McConnell simply didn't bite which naturally set the wingnuts all atwitter.

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11 minutes ago, hawker9000 said:

All Obama had to do was submit a qualified worthwhile nominee.  'Would've been a complete waste of the Senate's time to debate and then predictably fail to confirm Garland.   Garland was never more than a cynical play by Obama to try and score a few last-minute election points for the dems by forcing the Senate's hand into rejecting his lame duck appointee.  McConnell simply didn't bite which naturally set the wingnuts all atwitter.

And Merrick Garland wasn't qualified because...?

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2 hours ago, hawker9000 said:

All Obama had to do was submit a qualified worthwhile nominee.  'Would've been a complete waste of the Senate's time to debate and then predictably fail to confirm Garland.   Garland was never more than a cynical play by Obama to try and score a few last-minute election points for the dems by forcing the Senate's hand into rejecting his lame duck appointee.  McConnell simply didn't bite which naturally set the wingnuts all atwitter.

Garland was qualified moderate. You could look it up. Senate republicans ought to at least have the balls to go on record that they wouldn't confirm simply because Obama nominated him. Same thing with that health care bill they ditched.

"Last minute election points"? Hello? Do you have any facts at all about this? 9 months left in Obama's term was how long it was blocked.  That is almost a fifth of a term, not a "last minute".

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This is a difficult thing. As a rule I think the President should be able to pick whomever he chooses for SC judges or cabinet posts, assuming they are competent. Thing is this guy's history has some weird stuff in it that is a bit icky. Plus he's only 49 he could serve for the next 35 years for goodness' sake.

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