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McCain Seeks Last-Ditch Deal to Avoid Gorsuch Nuclear Fight

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Thursday, 30 Mar 2017 05:36 PM

Senator John McCain said he’s talking to Democrats in hopes of reaching a “long-term” deal to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court while saving the minority party’s ability to block future high court nominations.

“There’s always hope, because maybe we’ll recognize the damage that’s been done to the institution and the American people,” McCain, an Arizona Republican, said in an interview Thursday in Washington. “I’ll have conversations but I’m not optimistic.”

At the same time, Joe Manchin of West Virginia became the first Democratic senator to support Gorsuch’s confirmation, saying in a statement Thursday that “I have not found any reasons why this jurist should not be a Supreme Court justice.”

The Senate plans to vote April 7 on President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee. Republicans control the Senate 52-48, and under current rules would need support from eight Democrats to overcome an expected Democratic filibuster.

McCain said he’s talking with Manchin and Chris Coons of Delaware thus far. 

“We’re talking, and everyone’s talking in good faith," Manchin said Thursday afternoon. “I can just tell you that I would participate because I think the institution is more important than each of us.”

Separately, Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona has been trying to persuade Democrats not to try to block Gorsuch, said spokesman Jason Samuels.

McCain said a deal would look “kind of like the Gang of 14,” a deal struck more than a decade ago that averted the majority party’s use of the “nuclear option” to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for advancing lower-court nominees. Those 14 senators agreed to filibuster nominees only in extraordinary circumstances.

Harry Reid

In 2013, though, Democrats led by then-Majority Leader Harry Reid ended the filibuster for all executive-branch and lower-court nominees except Supreme Court picks. Republicans are now threatening to do the same for high-court nominees if Senate Democrats seek to block Gorsuch. That would leave the filibuster in place only as a mechanism for the minority party to block legislation.

A deal would require eight Democrats to vote to advance Gorsuch’s nomination in return for a promise that in the future they would be able to block a nominee in extraordinary circumstances.

“Exactly,” McCain said. “Obviously that would be in the eye of the beholder but it would have to be something different than this,” he said, referring to Gorsuch.

“Odds are overwhelmingly against” getting a deal, McCain said.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he’s been approached in recent days by lawmakers from both parties seeking some accord and that he’s “suggested ideas.”

“There are a lot of discussions going on, but I’m not sure how productive they will be,” Blumenthal said.

Confrontation Nearing

The quest for a compromise comes as both parties edge closer to a confrontation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that Gorsuch will be confirmed one way or the other, a veiled threat that Republicans would unilaterally change Senate rules if Democrats mount a filibuster.

So far, 29 Democrats in the chamber have said they would vote to block Gorsuch. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer insisted Democrats have little to lose by seeking to obstruct a nominee many of them find objectionable. Gorsuch, he said, was recommended by conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society, has a pro-business track record in his rulings, and is backed by what the senator called a “dark money” campaign of secret donors.

Schumer said the idea that Democrats should allow Gorsuch onto the court to preserve the filibuster for future fights over nominees is a fallacy, since Republicans could just change Senate rules during the next battle.

Slippery Slope

“If they’re so quick to change the rules this time, they’ll be quick to change them next time,” Schumer, of New York, said at a news conference.

While no Republicans have said they’ll reject McConnell if he invokes the “nuclear option,” many are wary of what that would do to the Senate and the types of high-court nominees who could be confirmed in the future.

Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said he’s concerned about the potential for a slippery slope. If the Senate bans filibusters for Supreme Court justices in addition to executive branch picks and lower-court judges, the next step might be to bar them for legislation, he said.

“You had Reid breaking the rules to change the rules, so then you’d have McConnell breaking the rules to change the rules, and in essence it would be very easy the next time there is a big legislative issue, just to go ahead and do it,” Corker said.

More Polarized

Corker and Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Thursday that future high-court picks might be more extreme in judicial ideology if they need only a bare majority to advance. The polarization of the Senate will only worsen, Graham said.

An NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll Thursday showed that most Americans want Senate Democrats to allow a vote on Gorsuch’s nomination. Fifty-four percent of Americans say Democrats shouldn’t block him, while 37 percent say they should, according to the poll conducted March 24-28. Sixty-four percent of Democrats say Senate Democrats should prevent a vote, while 84 percent of Republicans say Democrats should allow a final vote.

The Senate debate on Gorsuch is being influenced by other developments, including last week’s failure of a Republican-only House bill to replace Obamacare. That has emboldened Democrats, who’ve refused to take part in talks on a replacement of the 2010 health-care law, to continue going their own way.

Trump’s low poll numbers also aren’t helping bring the sides together. The president’s approval rating in Wednesday’s Gallup daily tracking poll was 35 percent, the lowest so far in his presidency. By Thursday, Trump’s approval had ticked back up to 38 percent. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

© Copyright 2017 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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Senator John McCain said he's talking to Democrats in hopes of reaching a "long-term" deal to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court while saving the minority party's ability to block future high court nominations."There's always hope, because maybe we'll recognize...
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Thursday, 30 Mar 2017 05:36 PM
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