As Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have taken turns trying to pin down a wily Neil Gorsuch about his judicial philosophy, views on controversial issues, and independence from his partisan and ideological allies, Republicans have been playing a very different game. They are working themselves into a lather over the temerity of those Democrats in suggesting Judge Gorsuch isn’t the fine fellow and intensely reasonable jurist he projects himself to be in these hearings. The Washington Post’s account of the hearings provides some examples of GOP umbrage:
On Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) credited Gorsuch for enduring the marathon hearings and said he was passing the test “with flying colors.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who has been a part of 14 Supreme Court confirmation hearings, told Gorsuch, “I’ve seen an awful lot of great people in the law come before this committee. And I haven’t seen anybody any better than you.”
“Why anybody in this body would vote against you, I’ll never understand,” Hatch said later.
The not-so-subtle suggestion is that Democrats are not behaving in good faith, and if they oppose Gorsuch en masse Republicans will be justified in taking extreme measures to get him confirmed — i.e., killing the right to filibuster Supreme Court nominees.
The man who will pull the trigger on that so-called “nuclear option,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, has been laying the foundation:
“If Judge Gorsuch can’t achieve 60 votes in the Senate, could any judge appointed by a Republican president be approved with 60 or more votes in the Senate?” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., asked on Tuesday. “If they don’t find Gorsuch acceptable, are they taking the position the vacancy should never be filled? At all?”
Actually, the only senators who have publicly taken the position that the other party’s SCOTUS nominees should be blocked in perpetuity are Republicans Ted Cruz and Richard Burr, who said they would do whatever was necessary to stop Hillary Clinton from successfully appointing a Justice for however long it took — you know, back when it looked like she was probably going to become president.
But never mind the hypocrisy shown by the people who denied Merrick Garland so much as a single hearing now waxing indignant over the possibility of Democrats voting against their favorite. Leadership member John Thune made McConnell’s implicit threat explicit:
Top Republican Sen. John Thune, of South Dakota, all but confirmed Wednesday that his party is willing to use what’s known as the “nuclear option,” to lower the vote threshold to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch if Democrats try to filibuster.
“We will do what is necessary to confirm Judge Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, yes,” he told Fox News’ Shannon Bream on “America’s Newsroom,” when asked if they’d go that route.
What Senate Republicans hope, of course, is that these tactics can convince just enough Democrats to vote for Gorsuch’s confirmation that the “nuclear option” can be holstered, for the moment at least. This would give their party and their beleaguered president a “victory” just before the Easter recess (or so that’s what the current schedule assumes), at a time when they may rather desperately need something to take the big fat “Loser” label off the elephant’s broad and exposed backside. Going nuclear is not ideal, if only because it will spoil the fable that the Trump-Ryan-McConnell triumvirate represents anything other than pure partisanship with some extremist twists and an unfortunate knack for screwing things up.