The stage is set for a showdown in the U.S. Senate later this week that could change the way Supreme Court nominees are confirmed.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, took the procedural step Tuesday night to end floor debate over the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch.
However, with Democratic leaders still threatening a filibuster, Senate Republicans have said they’ll do what it takes to get Gorsuch confirmed. That likely means triggering the so-called nuclear option, which would require just a simple majority to change the rules, requiring a lower threshold of votes to move the confirmation forward.
Former Washington U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, a Republican, believes this fight started years ago in 2013, when then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, used the nuclear option to confirm cabinet appointees and lower court judges under President Obama, citing obstruction by Republicans.
“For at least the last three years, I’ve been advising Sen. McConnell, the Republican leader, that the filibuster was effectively killed several years ago when the Democrats changed the rules by a majority of the Senate,” Gorton said. “In effect, it’s a corpse on the floor of the Senate, and they ought to get rid of its lock, stock, and barrel.”
Gorton believes the filibuster has become increasingly used, and in his opinion, misused.
“In the last ten years, the filibuster has been used by the minority party to prevent the majority party to even bringing a bill to the floor to discuss,” said Gorton.
However, in an interview with Meet the Press, McConnell indicated the legislative filibuster is safe, even if he triggers a change of rules regarding Supreme Court nominees.
Both Washington’s Democratic Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have said they oppose Gorsuch’s nomination and will not vote to end debate.
“I don't take this decision lightly, but with the future of women's health and rights and opportunities and opportunity at risk, it's a decision I must make,” said Murray on the floor Tuesday afternoon.
While Murray and Cantwell were both in the Senate in 2006, when Gorsuch was unanimously confirmed by voice vote as a federal judge in Colorado, Democratic lawmakers now opposing his nomination say the stakes are much higher since the Supreme Court comes with a lifetime appointment.
Related: Full statement from Murray
“The reason Democrats are engaged in this foolish filibuster over Gorsuch, they're told if any of them compromise, they'll be primary candidates run against them the next time they run for election,” said Gorton.
Cantwell, meanwhile, who narrowly defeated Gorton for her Senate seat in 2000, said in a statement she believes that “if the nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court cannot get 60 votes then we need a new nominee, not a change of rules.”
Related: Full statement from Cantwell
As for whether this latest congressional fight is leading to a decline in decorum in the Upper Chamber, former Senator Gorton believes the problem runs deeper.
He blames increasing partisanship and division between the two political parties.
"The most conservative Democrat is still more liberal than the most liberal Republican. The fact that there’s no overlap anymore is a greater cause of the lack of decorum than just the lack of personal relationships," Gorton argues. "That has taken place because that represents the country. We’re divided between blue states and red states and very few change back and forth."
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