Schumer warns GOP against rules change on Supreme Court

Schumer warns GOP against rules change on Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — As he tries to line up enough votes to block President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, the Senate Democratic leader is strongly warning Republicans against changing Senate rules to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer lost two in his caucus Thursday when Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said they would vote for the Colorado jurist. But Schumer still appears to be on track to amass enough Democratic votes to block the nomination, which could prompt Republicans to change Senate rules so that Gorsuch could be confirmed.

Schumer, of New York, had tough words for his Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in an interview with The Associated Press.

“He’s bound and determined to change the rules and trample on Senate tradition” to get a conservative nominee approved, Schumer said of McConnell. “Let the public judge whether that is a good thing.”

Manchin and Heitkamp join all 52 Senate Republicans, who argue the Denver-based federal appeals court judge is impeccably qualified to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the high court. Republicans accuse Democrats, and Schumer in particular, of playing politics by opposing Gorsuch.

The Senate confirmation vote is expected late next week. Unless 60 senators support Gorsuch — which would require six more Democrats to join Heitkamp and Manchin — Republicans would have to unilaterally change Senate rules to allow Gorsuch to be confirmed with a simple majority vote in the 100-member Senate.

That scenario is looking increasingly inevitable, even though it is known on Capitol Hill as the “nuclear option” because it would amount to a dramatic departure from Senate norms of bipartisanship and collegiality. Although McConnell has yet to formally announce plans to take the step, Republican senators fully expect it and are prepared, even if regretful.

Schumer conducted back-to-back interviews with several major news outlets Thursday to argue that it will be the fault of Republicans, not Democrats, if the rules change happens.

“Senate Republicans are acting like if Gorsuch doesn’t get 60 votes they have no choice but to change the rules,” Schumer said. “That is bunk.” He claimed that Trump should produce a more mainstream nominee instead.

As for Manchin and Heitkamp, Schumer said: “I’ve made my arguments to every member including them and each member is going to make his or her own decision.”

In his statement, Manchin said: “I hold no illusions that I will agree with every decision Judge Gorsuch may issue in the future, but I have not found any reasons why this jurist should not be a Supreme Court Justice.”

Heitkamp said she expects Gorsuch to follow through on his promise of an independent judiciary that “acts as a proper check and balance on the other two branches of government.”

In all, 35 Democrats have said so far that they definitely will oppose Gorsuch.

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal announced his opposition Friday, saying he believes Gorsuch would not be an independent voice from Trump.

Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who says she is torn over how to vote, highlighted the dilemma for Democratic senators running next year in states that Trump won in last November’s presidential election.

Should they vote for Gorsuch and anger their liberal base? Or vote to block Gorsuch and prompt Republicans to permanently change Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster?

“It is obviously a really difficult situation,” McCaskill told reporters.

McCaskill’s comments came after The Kansas City Star released audio of her talking to donors over the weekend. In the recording, which the Missouri Republican Party gave to the newspaper, McCaskill says the decision is difficult because if the filibuster is eliminated, Trump could nominate another justice without having to compromise with Democrats, and “all of a sudden, the things I fought for with scars on my back to show for it in this state are in jeopardy.”

If confirmed, Gorsuch would replace Scalia, who died in February 2016. But if one of the more liberal justices dies or retires, Trump’s next pick could fundamentally alter the balance of the court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 84 and fellow liberal Justice Stephen Breyer is 78. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the pivotal vote closest to the court’s centre, is 80.

Changing Senate rules would not be unprecedented. In 2013, Democrats were in the majority under the leadership of Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and upset about the blockage of President Barack Obama’s nominees to a powerful appellate court. The Democrats pushed through a rules change lowering the vote threshold on all nominees except for the Supreme Court from 60 to a simple majority.

Schumer conceded Thursday that “We made one mistake, we shouldn’t have changed the rules for lower court judges … but we never did it for Supreme Court. This is a much bigger mistake on their behalf.”

And he defended Democratic plans to filibuster Gorsuch, even though that step has very rarely been used against Supreme Court nominees. Schumer pointed to the treatment last year of Merrick Garland, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, who never got a hearing as McConnell led a Republican blockade.

“Judge Garland didn’t even get the opportunity to be filibustered, so let’s not say this is unprecedented,” Schumer said.

Mary Clare Jalonick And Erica Werner, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Zero-emission student housing planned at UBC Okanagan

The Skeena project will open in September 2020

Okanagan chefs battle at Great Kitchen Party

Chef Kai Koroll of 50th Parallel Estate Winery won the event Friday night

Pre-season booming at Big White with Hallmark movie production

Big White is the main drop for Hallmark’s film Alice in Winterland

Kelowna man sentenced to 18 months probation for filming co-workers in washroom

The man was conditionally discharged following a sentencing hearing on Friday

Woman wanted on Canada-wide warrant possibly in Kelowna area

Brittany McLellan is unlawfully at large and wanted for breach of federal parole

Abortions rights advocates urge Liberals to turn politics into policy

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was pressed to clarify his stance abortion over several weeks

Closing arguments begin in B.C. case launched in 2009 over private health care

Dr. Day said he illegally opened the Cambie Surgery Centre in 1996 in order to create more operating-room time

MacLean says “Coach’s Corner is no more” following Cherry’s dismissal from Hockey Night

Cherry had singled out new immigrants in for not honouring Canada’s veterans and fallen soldiers

MacKinnon powers Avs to 5-4 OT win over Canucks

Vancouver battled back late to pick up single point

Dallas Smith, Terri Clark to perform on CP Holiday Train’s B.C. stops

Annual festive food bank fundraiser rolling across province from Dec. 11 to 17

Poole’s Land finale: Tofino’s legendary ‘hippie commune’ being dismantled

Series of land-use fines inspire owner Michael Poole to sell the roughly 20-acre property.

Port Alberni mom takes school district to court over Indigenous smudging, prayer in class

Candice Servatius, who is an evangelical Christian, is suing School District 70

Family of B.C. man killed in hit-and-run plead for tips, one year later

Cameron Kerr’s family says the driver and passengers tried to cover their tracks

Chilliwack family’s dog missing after using online pet-sitting service

Frankie the pit bull bolted and hit by a car shortly after drop off through Rover.com

Most Read