This past week the hearings for supreme court nominee Neil Gorsuch took place. Par for the course, the Democrat Senators tried to catch Judge Gorsuch in a “gotcha” moment but they failed. Utterly. Gorsuch handled himself with dignity and was clearly the smartest person in the room. He came off as likeable and understanding. Unfortunately, the hearings were merely a formality, no matter how good Judge Gorsuch looked the Democrat leadership were always going to attempt to block the nomination. Immediately after the hearing were closed Senate Minority Leader Schumer sent out a tweet:
Judge Gorsuch’s nomination will face a cloture vote & as I’ve said, he will have to earn sixty votes for confirmation. My vote will be “No.”
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) March 23, 2017
Democrats feel confident that they have more than the 40 votes needed to sustain a filibuster for a time. There are currently 48 senators who caucus with the Democrats which means that there are only a couple of options that the Republicans have to get Gorsuch confirmed. One way they can attempt to have Gorsuch confirmed is to have repeated cloture votes. This would test the Democrats resolve. There are a few Senators who may, after one or two symbolic votes, break ranks and vote to confirm Gorsuch. These are Senators that are up for re-election in states that broke for trump during the presidential election as well as Senators in red leaning states. This would allow them to tow the party line but at the same time not be trapped into being viewed as obstructionist to a well-liked judge.
Another option and the most likely it seems, is the “nuclear option”. This would involve Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell changing the senate rules so that it would only take a simple majority to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. This was first done by the previous Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D) who changed the rules to allow all presidential nominations to be confirmed with a simple majority vote. The precedent is there, so there would be little political fallout from the move and McConnell has hinted that he would not hesitate to go nuclear if he had too.
While this move to filibuster by the Democrats is hardly surprising because of the intense pressure by their base to block anything that Trump has his hand in. They must consider though how much of an issue that they should make this. This doesn’t shift the balance of power in the supreme court, it will remain a right leaning court, and they are destined to lose this fight. It would make more sense for them to allow vulnerable Senators to vote to confirm Gorsuch and take that weapon away from the Republicans come election time.