The final standoff over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is officially set for Thursday. And frustrated senators warning about the gradual demise of the institution have given up even trying to avert a “nuclear” showdown.
Two days ahead of the confrontation, 44 Senate Democrats have pledged to filibuster President Donald Trump’s first high court nominee. Meanwhile, Senate Republican leaders confidently said Tuesday that they have the votes to invoke the “nuclear option” to ensure Gorsuch gets confirmed even with Democratic opposition.
The party’s chief vote-counter even predicted that not a single GOP senator will defect on the controversial vote Thursday, which would change Senate precedent by a simple majority of the chamber so that filibusters of Supreme Court nominees can be cut off with just 51 votes instead of 60.
Senators accustomed to reaching a deal to stave off institutional crises say there’s no hope this time around.
“I’ve tried. I promise you, I’ve had numerous conversations, meetings,” a dejected Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday. “Believe me, I tried. I really tried. And we tried at least twice in the past and succeeded. The atmosphere is different nowadays.”
Added Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): “What deal is there? There is no deal to be had.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took the requisite procedural steps on Tuesday to tee up the high-stakes vote over Gorsuch’s confirmation on Thursday.
Once Democrats successfully filibuster Gorsuch — the first Supreme Court nominee since Abe Fortas was blocked for confirmation as chief justice in 1968, though Merrick Garland also never received a vote — Republicans are preparing to deploy the “nuclear option.”
McConnell’s top deputy, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, said he did not expect any Republicans to defect, despite the controversial nature of the parliamentary vote. GOP senators justified the move, despite blasting then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for doing the same thing in 2013, by arguing that they were merely returning the Senate to its custom of approving judges without a 60-vote threshold.
“I think once this change occurs, several of my members pointed out you’ve gone back to what has been tradition of the Senate prior to the time Sen. [Chuck] Schumer started convincing Democrats to start doing this,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
While Republican leaders projected confidence on Thursday’s vote and Democrats warned the GOP would ultimately pay a price, moderates who had talked quietly about a compromise to prevent a nuclear showdown, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), were increasingly dour about those prospects.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who intentionally held off on announcing whether he would filibuster Gorsuch to buy time for a deal, said he was still talking with other senators on a potential compromise but felt compelled to add: “Don’t interpret that, in any way, as optimistic.”
“I’ve had … conversations but I haven’t seen any negotiations,” Cardin said. Those talks include “a lot of sympathy, but without the leaders giving us some leeway, it’s not gonna happen. Every time we’ve had an agreement, it’s always been the leaders encouraging those discussions.”
Indeed, both McConnell and Schumer, the Senate minority leader, have given their ranks little space to deal. They’ve instead retreated to respective partisan corners and have grown increasingly infuriated at each other over the vacant Supreme Court seat left empty for more than a year following the death of Antonin Scalia.
McConnell is sticking to the timeline he laid out last week for getting Gorsuch confirmed.
The Senate will vote to cut off debate on the federal appellate judge’s nomination on Thursday and then deploy the nuclear option to change nomination rules once that cloture vote fails. Once that vote succeeds and Republicans can end the Gorsuch filibuster with just a simple majority, there will be 30 more hours of floor debate until a confirmation vote, expected to come Friday.
Democrats continue to insist that it doesn’t have to end this way.
“Sen. McConnell would have the world believe that his hands are tied, that the only option after Judge Gorsuch doesn’t earn 60 votes is to break the rules to change the rules,” Schumer said, using the phrase that Republicans used to chastise Reid when he invoked the nuclear option in 2013. “That could not be further from the truth.”
Elana Schor contributed to this report.
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