Nuclear option saber-rattling begins over Gorsuch vote

Story highlights

  • Democrats angrily accused Gorsuch of deliberately refusing to answer questions about his judicial outlook
  • Republican leaders warned they were prepared to use the so-called "nuclear option" to ensure they can confirm Gorsuch

Washington (CNN)As Neil Gorsuch testified coolly for a second day before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his selection to the Supreme Court, debate heated up between Senate leaders over his fate once his nomination gets to the floor, which is expected in two weeks.

Democrats angrily accused Gorsuch of deliberately refusing to answer questions about his judicial outlook and suggested the judge faces a difficult path to get the eight Democratic votes he would need to get passed an expected Democratic filibuster against him.
    Unfazed, Republican leaders warned they were prepared to use the so-called "nuclear option" to ensure they can confirm Gorsuch on a party line vote if Democrats block him. Republicans argue Gorsuch has a sterling legal resume and otherwise would be confirmed easily if Democrats weren't playing politics.
    "If Judge Gorsuch can't get achieve 60 votes in the Senate, could any judge appointed by a Republican president be approved with 60 or more votes in the Senate?" Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked. "If they don't find Gorsuch acceptable, are they taking the position that the vacancy should never be filled? At all?"
    The standoff is putting huge pressure on Democrats up for re-election in red-leaning states -- especially those from states Trump won last year -- who must decide to anger either an energized Democratic base that strongly opposes Gorsuch or those voters in their states who want to give President Donald Trump a chance to fill the court vacancy.
    This also likely won't be the only Supreme Court nominee from Trump, and future fights may be far more contentious, especially if he's replacing a liberal justice on the bench.
    Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a centrist Republican known for working across the aisle, went to the Senate floor to encourage Democrats not to filibuster Gorsuch.
    "Filibustering to death the Gorsuch nomination -- or any presidential nomination, for that matter -- flies in the face of 230 years of Senate tradition," Alexander said. "Throughout the Senate's history, approval of even the most controversial presidential nominations has required only a majority vote."
    Asked by CNN what the consequences would be if those red-state Democrats block Gorsuch, Alexander responded gently: "I think the consequence would be that independent voters, centrist voters who put them into office, would take a second look when they run for re-election."
    But in interviews, two of those threatened Democrats said they would treat Gorsuch like any other decision before them, regardless of the intensified political ramifications.
    "I know that's a theory, but I'm not sure I buy the argument that there is a new dynamic," said Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who says he has "concerns" with Gorsuch.
    "Maybe I'm nerve dead but I'm really not feeling it," said Sen. Jon Tester of Montana. "I'm in the process right now of reading his opinions. I'll base my decision more off of that more than anything else."
    Tester said both the Democratic and Republican bases are exercised about the issue.
    "I'm going to do what I think is right," he said.
    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer argued Democrats feel burned because when now-Chief Justice John Roberts testified at his confirmation hearing he refused, like Gorsuch, to answer questions about his legal views. Schumer says he was then surprised by Robert's decision in the controversial Citizens United campaign finance case that most Democrats adamantly oppose.
    "Judge Gorsuch looks like he's playing dodgeball with the Senate Judiciary Committee," Schumer said. "He has bent over backwards to avoid revealing anything, anything at all about his judicial philosophy or the legal issues that concern the American people."
    "I don't think a single one of our senators has endorsed Judge Gorsuch," Schumer added. "Everyone is being careful and waiting for the hearings. I think he's made a very poor impression on many of our members in his refusal to answer questions."