Talk of previous high court nominee, ‘nuclear option’ as vote on Gorsuch nears

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 The name of Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, has been mentioned often during the leadup to a vote on President Donald Trump's choice for the court: Judge Neil Gorsuch. (AP file photo)

The name of Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, has been mentioned often during the leadup to a vote on President Donald Trump's choice for the court: Judge Neil Gorsuch. (AP file photo)

If you’ve tuned in to the debate over the Neil Gorsuch Supreme Court nomination, you may be surprised by how many times another person’s name has been mentioned.

That’s because Democrats are still smarting over the GOP’s move to deny the open seat on the high court to President Barack Obama’s choice: Merrick Garland.

“What the Republicans did to Merrick Garland was unprecedented and shameful,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware. 

Carpenter is widely regarded as a soft-spoken statesman. But when it comes to the GOP’s refusal to hold hearings or set a vote on Garland, you can tell Carper is still steaming. And that’s why he plans to vote against Gorsuch.

“I’m not prepared to support moving the nomination until we’ve actually taken up and dealt with the last nomination. Merrick Garland never got almost anybody to meet with him, certainly never had a hearing for a minute, never had a chance to be heard in a public hearing, Carper said. “Certainly didn’t get a cloture vote.”

But Republicans brush aside those criticisms.

“It’s totally irrelevant,” said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania.

Toomey — the only Republican representing the Philadelphia-area region in the Senate — said he and his colleagues aren’t debating Merrick Garland, they’re now supposed to be debating Neil Gorsuch.

“I’ve heard no credible, substantive attacks. He is an outstanding choice,” said Toomey of Gorsuch. “I can’t imagine a better choice for the Supreme Court.”

With Carper and other Democrats threatening to do anything in their power to block Gorsuch — possibly employing a filibuster to keep him locked out — Republicans are threatening to unleash the “nuclear option.”

That would drop the threshold for approving Supreme Court justices from 60 to 51 votes. And Toomey said he’s on board with the plan to confirm Gorsuch no matter what — even if that changes a longstanding Senate tradition.

“Let me just put it this way, we’re going to confirm Neil Gorsuch one way or another. And I support his confirmation,” he said.

‘Consensus candidate ought to be able to rack up 60 votes’

Democrats deployed a limited “nuclear option” when they were in power by lowering the threshold for confirming federal judges from 60 to 51.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, said there’s a reason they didn’t lower the threshold for nominees to the Supreme Court, said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, adding that the GOP may be making a grave mistake.

“Well they shouldn’t, we certainly didn’t go in that direction,” he said. “My position has been, if you’re truly a consensus candidate, you ought to be able to rack up 60 votes. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”

Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, has had two private meetings with Gorsuch and sat through the four days of confirmation hearings.

Like many Democrats, Coons complained that Gorsuch didn’t give straight answers to many of his questions — but he hasn’t decided on how he will vote.

“He’s very intelligent, he’s charming, he’s not particularly responsive to questions, but he was very affable in declining to respond to questions,” Coons said.

Coons said he remains unsure on whether he can trust Gorsuch on a number of issues, ranging from privacy rights to LGBT issues.

“As I think you could tell from my line of questioning, I had some real concerns about just how far out of the mainstream his opinions are in a couple of different areas,” Coons said.

The Judiciary Committee is set to vote on Gorsuch on Monday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised he’ll be confirmed by the full Senate by April 7 — even if he has to deploy the nuclear option over a Democratic filibuster.

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