WASHINGTON ― Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday described his impending exercise of the so-called nuclear option to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch as a “new low,” and blamed Democrats for it.
Gorsuch ― President Donald Trump’s choice to fill the seat that McConnell refused to let President Barack Obama fill when he was still in office ― has failed to sway enough Democrats to win the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.
In years past, that would have meant Trump and Republicans would have to go back to the drawing board, and pick a new nominee who could win over eight Democrats to go with the 52 Republicans in the Senate.
But instead, McConnell and the GOP seem intent on using the “nuclear option,” which amounts to changing the rules midstream through a series of procedural votes that require only simple majorities to pass.
It’s the same thing Democrats did in 2013 after Republicans had forced hundreds of filibuster-ending cloture votes on Obama nominees, including blockades of three seats on the nation’s second highest court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
While it was Republicans obstructing nominees then, and Republicans who accused Democrats at the time of “break[ing] the rules to change the rules,” McConnell said in his Tuesday morning floor speech that if he does the same thing now, it would be the Democrats’ fault.
“It should be unsettling to everyone that our colleagues across the aisle have brought the Senate to this new low, and with such an impressive nominee with such broad bipartisan support,” McConnell said.
“The Democrats said that they will filibuster against him, something that Republicans have never done,” McConnell said. “No one in the Senate Republican conference ― no one ― has ever filibustered to a Supreme Court nominee.”
McConnell is technically correct, although there were not enough Republicans in the Senate to block Obama nominee Sonia Sotomayor in 2009, and they could have just barely blocked Elena Kagan in 2010 if no moderate Republicans defected.
McConnell pointed to the Kagan episode, when his side had just 41 votes, as evidence of his party’s respect for Senate traditions, saying Republicans talked then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) out of holding a cloture vote on Kagan on the grounds that the GOP would not filibuster.
“We didn’t even want the pretense of the possibility of a filibuster on the table,” McConnell said. “It’s quite a different story from what we’re seeing today, but this is where our Democratic colleagues have taken us.”
Democrats, meanwhile, accused McConnell of pure hypocrisy, pointing out that he blocked hearings ― let alone a vote ― on Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, a year ago.
“There was a poem I recall, and it went like this: ‘When I was going up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there; he wasn’t there again today, I wish that man would go away,’” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), referring to a piece by Hughes Mearns.
“I thought about that poem when I listened to the majority leader’s speech about how cooperative he has been when it comes to Supreme Court nominations,” Durbin added. “The name he forgot to mention was Merrick Garland.”