The president urged the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to abandon the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees.
WASHINGTON — President Trump, seeming to relish a fight with Democrats over his nominee to the Supreme Court, encouraged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday to invoke the so-called nuclear option and abandon the 60-vote threshold for confirmation.
“If we end up with that gridlock, I would say, ‘If you can, Mitch, go nuclear,’ ” the president said.
Democrats are weighing strategies to oppose the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch and debating how aggressively to pursue a battle over a seat that many of them believe was stolen from their party.
DeVos nomination: President Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos as education secretary appears to be in trouble. Two Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — announced their opposition to DeVos on the Senate floor Wednesday. If she loses one more Republican — and all Democrats vote against her — the nomination dies. Collins and Murkowski said her lack of experience in the nation’s public schools is a deep concern. At least one other Republican wouldn’t commit to supporting her: Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska.
Nominations progress: Republicans jammed two of Trump’s top Cabinet picks through the Senate Finance Committee with no Democrats in the room Wednesday after suspending a rule that would have otherwise barred them from taking the vote. All 14 Republicans used two 14-0 roll calls to approve financier Steve Mnuchin for Treasury secretary and Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to be health secretary, ignoring Democrats’ demands that the two nominees provide more information about their financial backgrounds.
Dead SEAL:Trump made an unannounced trip Wednesday to honor the returning remains of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in a weekend raid in Yemen. Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, 36, of Peoria, Ill., was the first known U.S. combat death since Trump took office less than two weeks ago. An 8-year-old American girl was among 30 others killed in the operation on an al-Qaida compound, and three other U.S. service members were wounded. The president met with Owens’ family, which requested that the visit and the transfer of the Navy SEAL’s remains be private.
Short call: Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said his country’s relationship with the U.S. remained “very strong” and refused to comment on a Washington Post report that an angry Trump cut short their first telephone call. At the heart of the conversation was a deal struck with the Obama administration that would allow mostly Muslim refugees rejected by Australia to be resettled in the U.S. The Post said Trump had described the agreement as “the worst deal ever.”
Seattle Times news services
In selecting a respected conservative jurist, Trump has dared Democrats to pursue the kind of blanket obstructionism they long accused Republicans of embracing during the Obama administration.
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“That would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was put up to that neglect,” Trump said at the White House.
For the Democrats, who have struggled to match the fury and zeal of the party’s base during the wave of anti-Trump activism since the election, a full-scale showdown may prove unavoidable.
Democrats intend to repeatedly remind the public about the Republicans’ treatment of Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to fill the vacant seat last year, who was blocked from even receiving a hearing. McConnell had said a justice should not be seated during an election year, even though there is no prohibition on such action.
Now, Republicans will seek to capitalize on the groundwork laid since Trump’s election.
Leading conservative groups have united for a multimillion-dollar campaign to help Gorsuch, producing television commercials, planning gatherings at megachurches and contacting supporters to encourage them to demand a vote from their senators.
For Republicans who were leery of Trump’s campaign last year, the prospect of adding a conservative to the court was often a powerful motivator to stay in line. He has rewarded their faith.
As Gorsuch made his initial courtesy visits to senators on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Republican lawmakers assumed the tone of a party in power, appealing for unity and adherence to Senate custom.
Gorsuch’s first call after the announcement of his nomination was to Garland, as a gesture of respect, according to Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for the nomination effort.
The nominee was also joined Wednesday by Kelly Ayotte, a well-liked former Republican senator from New Hampshire, who is helping to shepherd him through the nominating process after losing her November re-election bid.
After greeting Gorsuch during his visit, McConnell asked Democrats to heed their own calls to restore the court to its rightful size.
“I would invite Democrats who spent many months insisting we need nine to join us in following through on that advice,” he said from the Senate floor.
Democrats have appeared unmoved, and occasionally seething.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said Gorsuch — who sits on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — must meet the 60-vote threshold required to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.
History — especially recent history — demands it, he suggested.
“This is nothing new. It was a bar met by each of President Obama’s nominations,” Schumer said.
He argued that if Gorsuch could not attract enough support, “the answer will not be to change the rules of the Senate, but to change the nominee to someone who can earn 60 votes.”
Schumer added that Trump’s White House had demonstrated “less respect for the rule of law than any in recent memory,” placing a “special burden on this nominee to be an independent jurist.”
Breaking a filibuster would require eight members of the Democratic caucus to join the 52 members of the Republican majority to advance the nomination, or force Republicans to change longstanding rules and push through the nomination on a simple majority vote.
Transfers of power from one party to the other often compel lawmakers to shift their perspectives, leaning on arguments they once rejected. But the bipartisan whiplash in the Senate has been especially striking.
Since Trump’s announcement, the two parties have rushed headlong into an embrace of the other’s former talking points. Republicans have cast Gorsuch as an unassailable choice, as Democrats did with Garland, trumpeting his appeals-court record and his impressive credentials.
They reminded some Senate Democrats that they had voted to confirm Gorsuch to a lower court once upon a time, as some Republicans had for Garland. Senators like Ted Cruz, R-Texas — who, before the election, raised the possibility of blocking a nomination indefinitely if Hillary Clinton won the presidency — have insisted on swift action.
Reactions to Gorsuch’s nomination among Democrats seemed to sort themselves into three camps: There were some cautious statements, often from moderate Democrats in states that Trump won, urging careful consideration of the pick. There were policy-based concerns raised about Gorsuch’s trail of conservative opinions and leanings. And there were arguments that did not focus much on Gorsuch at all, instead framing the choice of any judge not named Merrick Garland as illegitimate.
“This Supreme Court seat was stolen from the Obama administration,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said Wednesday. “It casts a big shadow over it. If this seat is filled in this manner, it’s going to undermine the integrity of the court, the legitimacy of the court, for decades to come.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Judiciary Committee, struck a more conciliatory note — to a point.
“Republicans were outrageously wrong in denying Merrick Garland a hearing and a vote. But two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said in an interview. “We should support a hearing and a vote for Neil Gorsuch. It’s part of the Senate’s job.”
He added, though, that Gorsuch should be required to clear 60 votes.