The folly of filibustering Gorsuch

Liam Donovan of Politico assesses U.S. Senate Democrats’ political calculations involving the filibuster of President Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

After three days of breezily proficient testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Neil Gorsuch emerged unscathed. The high court nominee deftly parried the barbed queries that came his way, calmly defusing and in some cases disarming his more heated inquisitors on the dais. The proceedings as a whole were anticlimactic, particularly in light of the frenzied health-care drama playing out on the other side of Capitol Hill. And yet less than 12 hours after the Judiciary Committee wrapped up its work for the week, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took to the floor of the Senate to announce his intention to deny Gorsuch cloture, calling on his colleagues to join him in a procedural blockade of the judge’s nomination and daring Republicans to change the longstanding rules of the chamber.

As to whether his members will answer the call to filibuster Gorsuch, the signals to date have been mixed. While purple-state centrists like Florida Sen. Bill Nelson have flashed uncharacteristic resolve, liberal stalwart and former Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont indicated that he was “not inclined” to deny the nominee an up or down vote. The fate of the gambit will hinge on the intentions of nearly 20 remaining holdouts from various wings of the party. …

… The problem for Schumer and his caucus is this: Republicans are not bluffing when they say Gorsuch will be on the court one way or another. The squishes, the institutionalists, even the erstwhile “Gang” members are unwavering in their support. Gorsuch is well-qualified for the job, acquitted himself admirably by any measure, and if an unprecedented partisan filibuster is the only thing standing between him and the bench, the Reid Rule will be invoked for the second time.

But saying Republicans have the political will to put Gorsuch on the court is different than saying there are 50 GOP senators who are otherwise prepared to end the filibuster. Their appetite is entirely a function of circumstance. Were Democrats to lay off Gorsuch, keeping their powder dry for the future and maintaining the moral high ground, it would be rather easy to imagine the Susan Collinses, John McCains and Lindsey Grahams of the world getting cold feet with a lesser Trump pick, particularly one who shifts the balance of the court rather than maintaining it. Which is to say that Gorsuch’s nomination is something of a perfect storm for GOP procedural fortitude. Only seeing such a model jurist held hostage to cynical political whims would be enough to compel the righteous indignation necessary to go nuclear.

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