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Will Republicans Go Nuclear? Gorsuch Confirmation Showdown Kicks Off

03-20-2017
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Does the White House think they can get enough Democrats on board to avoid the nuclear option?
CBN News’ Jennifer Wishon addressed that question and more on The 700 Club. Watch above.

WASHINGTON --  After hours of commentary from members of a Senate Judiciary Committee deeply divided over his nomination to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch finally got his chance to speak.

In his opening statement to the panel Monday afternoon, Gorsuch made it clear that he prized "the importance of an independent judiciary."

"Under our Constitution, it is for this body, the people's representatives, to make new laws. For the executive to ensure those laws are faithfully enforced. And for neutral and independent judges to apply the law in the people's disputes," said Gorsuch, who serves on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The first day of Senate confirmation hearings for Trump's high court pick was colored by partisan rancor.

Republicans like Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley heaped praise on Gorsuch, citing his commitment to impartially upholding the law.

"The judge's job, our nominee says, is to deliver on the promise that 'all litigants, rich or poor, mighty or meek, will receive equal protection under the law and due process for their grievances,'" the Iowa lawmaker noted in his opening remarks Monday morning.

On the other side, Democrats are still angry over Republicans' shunning of President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland.

"Senate Republicans made a big show last year about respecting the voice of the American people in this process," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "Now they are arguing that the Senate should rubber stamp a nominee selected by extreme interest groups and nominated by a president who lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wasted no time shooting down such criticism.

"If you believe this has been a great plan to get a Trump nominee on the court you had to believe Trump was going to win to begin with. I didn't believe it," he said. "I'm trying to hear someone over there tell me why he's not qualified."

Preparing for a Showdown

More tough questioning and bitter attacks from opponents are expected in the days ahead.

Preparing for a Senate showdown requires focus, intense research and looking your best.  

Before the hearings began, Judge Gorsuch, 49, met with more than 70 senators, brushed up on his own past legal opinions, and practiced for a likely grilling from probing senators -- all of this for a potential lifelong seat on the highest court in the land.

"Senator McConnell has promised to get this nomination done before the Easter recess," said Gary Marx, the senior advisor to the Judicial Crisis Network.  

A 'Critical' Moment for the Nation

According to the American Center for Law and Justice, the Gorsuch confirmation hearings represents a critical time for the Supreme Court and the nation.

"Judge Gorsuch is exceedingly qualified to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the ACLJ.

"Judge Gorsuch embraces the Constitution and the rule of law," he continued. "The obstructionists are vowing to oppose this nominee because of his conservative judicial philosophy. It is time for this confirmation process to move forward and we're calling on the Senate to confirm Judge Gorsuch without delay."

The Nuclear Option

Gorsuch will likely be confirmed, although it could be an unprecedented journey to the bench.

Gorsuch faces 3-4 days of hearings in the Judiciary Committee before moving to the full Senate. At that point, Republicans will need at least eight Democrats to join them in moving the nomination to a final vote.

Failing that might lead to the nuclear option.

That last resort would mean changing Senate rules to make any filibuster of Gorsuch impossible.  Then, only 51 votes would be needed for confirmation.

While rule changes can be approved with a simple majority vote, many senators don't like the idea because both sides understand the importance of the filibuster to the minority party.

"I think nuclear option is the wrong thing to use," warned Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

In 2013, then Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid went nuclear to prevent filibusters on cabinet nominees and lower court judges.  

"I think Harry Reid made a grave mistake," Manchin commented.

It was a move opposed by many Democratic senators, like Manchin and current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

"This is the most unique body in the world, the United States Senate. It's the most deliberative body because basically, the minority has a strong position, in a simple majority, 51. That means the minority is discounted completely. Well, guess what? The Republicans have been in the minority before; they're in the majority today," Manchin explained.

"The Democrats have been the majority; they're in the minority. That changes, so anybody that really respects this institution and understands the institution and the purpose of it -- this is the cooling part. This is basically the deliberative part of government which makes us unique," he continued.

Republicans will pursue Manchin and nine other senators like him because they face re-election in states won by Trump.

CBN News Chief Political Correspondent David Brody believes Democrats will avoid a filibuster this time and look ahead to the next fight.

"I don't expect Democrats to filibuster this nomination. It would be surprising to me and here's why: I believe they'll save their powder, their ammunition if you will, for the big fight coming next, which will be over Anthony Kennedy or whoever retires next and I think most likely it'll be Anthony Kennedy. I think that's where they'll put up the big fight because that would be, in essence, the big swing vote on the court," Brody explained.  

Evangelicals Optimistic

Many evangelical leaders are excited that the president followed through on a pledge to appoint a pro-life justice.

"They see this as President Trump fulfilling a campaign promise that he made and that was something that really unified a lot of evangelicals that may have had some concerns about Trump the candidate," said Marx.

"Neil Gorsuch is going to fill the shoes of Justice Antonin Scalia, and there is no better judge in this country that I can see that would do a better job of fulfilling that legacy," Marx continued.

The American Bar Association unanimously gave Gorsuch its highest possible rating. It is yet to be seen if the Senate agrees.

Grassley says his panel likely will cast a vote on Gorsuch's nomination on April 3.

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