On Wednesday night, it looked like Chuck Schumer had fractured his spine, figuratively speaking: A Politico report suggested that “a group of Senate Democrats” was willing to facilitate Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, for the right price. Specifically, these Democrats hoped to give Gorsuch their blessing “in exchange for a commitment from Republicans not to kill the filibuster for a subsequent vacancy during President Donald Trump’s term.”
This would be reasonable idea for Democrats to contemplate — if they felt they could trust the word of their colleagues across the aisle.
The Senate Majority Leader has given every indication that he’s committed to confirming Gorsuch — even if he needs to abolish the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees to do so. Still, he might have some reservations about abolishing that long-standing check on majority rule. So, while Democrats can’t block Gorsuch, they may be able to extract some concessions for their cooperation. It’s not crazy to try to make a deal of some sort. But most progressives are loathe to embrace one that relies on Republicans keeping a non-legally binding promise.
Anyhow, on Thursday, Schumer made it clear that he, for one, has no interest in such a deal. In a speech on the Senate floor, the Minority Leader announced that he would oppose Gorsuch’s nomination and that his caucus would filibuster it.
“If this nominee cannot earn 60 votes — a bar met by each of President Obama’s nominees, and George Bush’s last two nominees — the answer isn’t to change the rules,” Schumer said, imploring McConnell not to hit the nuclear switch. “It’s to change the nominee.”
Now, even if Schumer initiates a filibuster, there’s no guarantee that he has the 41 votes to sustain it. The Senate Minority Leader did not demand all Democrats take his position in his speech on the Senate floor. And conservative organizations are bankrolling ad campaigns aimed at pressuring vulnerable red-state Democrats to give Trump his man.
As of this writing, Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Bob Casey are the only Democratic senators who have publicly committed to opposing Gorsuch.
But many other Democrats have strongly signaled their antipathy for the federal judge. And the party’s energized base has little patience for any cooperation with a president it views as a pussy-grabbing “Putin puppet” — let alone cooperation that places a deeply conservative justice in the seat that should have been Merrick Garland’s.
In light of the Republicans’ extraordinary nullification of the Garland nomination, Schumer demands that Trump put forward a more centrist, “mainstream” alternative to Gorsuch, whose rulings on federal powers and labor and disability rights put him on the judiciary’s far-right flank.
There is approximately zero chance that McConnell honors that demand. But it’s a perfectly reasonable one. And if the Senate Majority Leader wishes to ignore it, Democrats should make him put the Supreme Court filibuster to sleep — it’s not long for this Earth, anyway.