By Matt Flegenheimer
WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats on Monday appeared to secure the votes necessary to filibuster the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, sending the body hurtling toward a bitter partisan confrontation later this week.
With an announcement from Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing to vote on Gorsuch’s nomination, Democrats had found their 41st vote in support of a filibuster.
Later in the hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination in a party-line vote, 11 to 9, to move President Donald Trump’s selection to the Senate floor.
The committee vote was the first step in what will be a long road for Gorsuch’s confirmation this week. Under current rules, Democrats can block Gorsuch unless he receives support from eight non-Republicans to break a filibuster.
If the filibuster holds, Republicans have hinted strongly that they will pursue the so-called nuclear option, changing long-standing practices to elevate Gorsuch on a simple majority vote.
The nomination fight has been shadowed, in large measure, by the treatment of Judge Merrick B. Garland, whom President Barack Obama nominated in March 2016 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia the month before. Republicans refused to even consider Garland during a presidential election year.
But Democrats insist that their opposition to Gorsuch stems from more than a thirst for payback. They have cited Gorsuch’s record on workers’ rights and his degree of independence from Trump and conservative groups like the Federalist Society, among other concerns.
Almost immediately, partisan sniping dominated the committee meeting.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee’s chairman, accused Democrats of searching in vain for credible reasons to vote against Gorsuch.
“This nominee that we’re voting on today is a judge’s judge,” he said. “He’s a picture of the kind of justice we should have on the Supreme Court.”
Taking her turn next, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top Democrat, criticized Gorsuch’s record on workers’ rights and his reluctance to answer questions.
She also reminded the public about the treatment of Garland.
“In my view, this is not a routine nomination,” she said as she began her remarks.
In his comments, Grassley expressed no regrets. “I believe then and I believe now that we took the right course for the Senate and for the court,” he said.