WASHINGTON (AP) — A showdown loomed over President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Tuesday as the number of Democrats opposing Judge Neil Gorsuch grew to more than 25. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged Gorsuch would be confirmed next week regardless of the Democratic opposition.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, was joined Tuesday by more than half-a-dozen other senators who announced their intention to vote against Gorsuch. Republicans, who hold the majority in the Senate, are intent on getting Trump’s choice confirmed before Congress’ two-week break in mid-April.
“Judge Gorsuch’s hearing reinforced my fear that he would favor corporations and special interest elites at the expense of American workers and families,” Durbin, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said of the four-day confirmation hearing last week. He announced his opposition on the Senate floor.
“Whether it is ruling against children who want an equal opportunity to get a quality education or women who want access to health care, Judge Gorsuch often fails to take into account the human face behind each case,” said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., one of the other senators announcing opposition Tuesday.
Republicans defended Gorsuch, with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, calling him an “incredibly well-qualified judge” and urging Democrats to allow an up-or-down vote.
McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters that, one way or another, Gorsuch would be confirmed April 7. “We’re going to get Judge Gorsuch confirmed,” he said.
The Democratic opposition raises the prospects of McConnell taking the politically charged step of changing Senate rules to get Gorsuch confirmed. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority, and it takes 60 votes to clear parliamentary hurdles and set up an up-or-down vote on a Supreme Court nominee.
McConnell could push for a rule change to win approval of the nominee with a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.
The topic of doing away with the 60-vote threshold for a Supreme Court nominee, sometime referred to as the “nuclear option,” came up when GOP senators gathered Tuesday behind closed doors.
“A lot of us really hate the thought of using it. Nonetheless it may very well be the ultimate outcome because one way or the other, we will have Judge Gorsuch on the bench,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. “That will happen.”
Liberals have pressured congressional Democrats to resist all things Trump, and have been emboldened by the failure of the Republican health care bill last week.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would oppose the nominee and lead Democrats in filibustering the choice.
Among those opposing Gorsuch are five Democrats who are up for re-election next year in states that Trump won in 2016. Five other Democrats from Republican-leaning, Trump states such as North Dakota, West Virginia and Montana have not said how they will vote.
The vacancy on the court has lasted 13 months since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last February. President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland, but Republicans insisted that the next president should fill the seat, a move that infuriated Democrats.
Changing the Senate rules would not be unprecedented.
In 2013, Democrats were in the majority under the leadership of Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and upset about Republicans blocking President Barack Obama’s nominees to a powerful appellate court. The Democrats pushed through a rules change lowering the vote threshold on all nominees except for the Supreme Court from 60 to a simple majority.
At the time, McConnell warned Democrats the strategy would backfire: “I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you will regret this, and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”