WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Senate Democrats who are threatening to filibuster a “qualified” judge like Neil Gorsuch would “filibuster anyone.”
“It leaves me then very stunned why there’s this talk about a filibuster. It’s quite clear that if he isn’t qualified, then nobody is. If you would be filibustering a judge like this, it’s obviously that you’d filibuster anyone, so the actions that some would want to filibuster is quite purely politics because if you’re voting on his qualifications it’s a very easy ‘yes’ vote,” Grassley said at a news conference with former law clerks for Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch who are supporting his confirmation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick for the seat once filled by late Justice Antonin Scalia, was “credibly qualified” but a victim of the “Biden rule,” referring to then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) saying that President George H.W. Bush should not nominate a Supreme Court justice in the middle of an election year.
“To my Democratic colleagues, if he can’t get 60 votes, Neil Gorsuch, that tells me that you don’t care about qualifications any longer. I voted for [Sonia] Sotomayor and [Elena] Kagan under the Obama administration. I would not have chosen either one but I thought they were well-qualified. And I can say without hesitation, according to the American Bar Association, Neil Gorsuch is one of the most qualified people in the country to be on the Supreme Court,” said Graham at the conference held outside of the Supreme Court.
Graham said the Democrats should give President Trump the same treatment he and other Senate Republicans gave Obama’s first two Supreme Court nominees.
“I just assumed like most people it would probably be a Democrat [president] and [the nominee] might be more liberal than Garland. President Trump won. He defied my expectations,” he said. “He won the White House and he deserves, I believe, the same respect and treatment that was given to President Obama for his two nominees that reported out of committee.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said the arguments Senate Democrats used to justify filibuster rule changes in 2013 for judicial appointments below the Supreme Court level could also apply to Senate Republicans using the “nuclear option” for the Gorsuch nomination.
“There is not one argument advanced in justification for the Democratic Senate majority’s decision to go nuclear in November 2013 that doesn’t also apply with equal force throughout the executive calendar,” Lee said.
“There is not one argument they’ve made that can apply there, so in my view that decision was made in November 2013.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) questioned why Democrats who voted to confirm Gorsuch a decade ago to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals would reject him now.
“Not a single senator spoke out against him – not Dianne Feinstein, not Pat Leahy, not Barack Obama, not Joe Biden, not Hillary Clinton. Every one of them went along with confirming him to the court of appeals – a question anyone should ask. If they supported him being on the court of appeals a decade ago, what’s changed?” Cruz said.
“And the only thing that has changed is our energized activist friends that have Democrats senators terrified they will be primaried from the left in a Democratic primary – that’s the only thing that’s changed,” he added, referring to the activists that had gathered outside of the Supreme Court to protest Gorsuch.
Cruz said the Supreme Court seat was on the ballot when Trump won the presidency, since Hillary Clinton promised a liberal nominee while Trump said he would nominate someone in the mold of Scalia.
“This election was in a very real sense a referendum on the Supreme Court – that has no precedent, the degree to which the voters knew precisely what they were getting,” he said. “The overwhelming election results in November as the American people chose the direction gives this nomination a kind of super legitimacy.”
Cruz said Democrats were very “animated” about their opposition to Justice Clarence Thomas, who was ultimately confirmed with 52 votes, and no Democrats had demanded a 60-vote threshold.
“He was confirmed with a simple majority – that, if the Democrats make the ill-advised decision to filibuster [this] week, will be the rule to which we return, the rule that has governed the Senate for Supreme Court nominations for two centuries,” Cruz said.
In a press conference on Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said special interest money is being used to “prop up” Gorsuch’s nomination.
“He was hand-picked for the Supreme Court by the right-wing, special interest-laden Heritage Foundation and Federal Society. Now millions of dollars of undisclosed special-interest donations are being used to prop up his nomination,” he said on Wednesday. “Let me be clear: he was hand-picked by special interests, supported by special interests and has a record of siding with special interests. This is no neutral, down-the-middle judge.”
Schumer recommended that the Republicans change the nominee rather than change the Senate rules.
“If Judge Gorsuch fails to earn 60 votes and fails to demonstrate he is mainstream enough to sit on the highest court, we should change the nominee, not the rules,” Schumer said. “They could easily come to another nominee who might be a little more mainstream.”
Schumer warned that Senate Republicans could change the rules for the next Supreme Court nominee as well.
“If they are so quick to change the rules this time, they will be just as quick to change it next time,” he said. “If right now, already, with this kind of nominee chosen by this kind of group, they are saying ‘we are going to change the rules’ they will change it again.”
Toward the end of the news conference, Schumer was asked if he would be willing to work with Trump on issues like healthcare. In response, Schumer said Democrats have suggestions to improve the healthcare system.
“Once they get off this kick of repeal and stop undermining the healthcare system, we have suggestions we want to make to make the system better. They’ll have suggestions. We should get in a room and try to make the system better. We’re happy to do that,” Schumer replied.
“You can’t govern from the hard right,” he added. “President Trump campaigned against both the Democratic and Republican establishments but when he came into office. He chose his appointments, including Supreme Court, and governed from the hard right – even without Democrats, he’s having trouble doing that as Trumpcare shows. He’ll have trouble constantly unless he moves to the middle. We’re waiting for him to do it.”