The U.S. Senate began formally debating the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday with no sign that Democrats and Republicans are seriously trying to avoid changing the rules of the chamber to ensure his confirmation.
Democrats now have the votes they need to block a procedural vote and compel President Trump and Republicans either to withdraw Gorsuchâs nomination or to change Senate rules to eliminate the 60-vote requirement.
For weeks, Republicans have warned that they will change the chamberâs procedures if Democrats block Gorsuch and are vowing to confirm the 49-year old federal appeals court judge by Friday.
With the opposition holding firm, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned on Tuesday that a Democratic filibuster would be âtruly detrimental to this body and to the country.â He faulted Democrats for âhurtling toward the abyss and taking the Senate with them. They need to reconsider.â
But Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that an impasse could still be avoided if Trump and Senate Republicans negotiated with Democrats to select a new nominee.
âThere are mainstream Republican nominees who can earn adequate Democratic support,â Schumer said â but he once again declined to suggest new potential nominees.
In a sign that at least some senators still want to avoid the showdown, Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) said that even though he plans to vote against Gorsuch and support the Democratic filibuster, he is willing to work on an agreement that would stave off changes to how the Senate confirms Supreme Court justices.
âThere are Democrats and Republicans who I hope will be talking this week, in the next two days, to see if we could find some path forward where we preserve the filibuster,â Coons said in a CNN interview.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said that he had been discussing a potential compromise with Democrats as recently as Monday, but admitted âI havenât made a real pushâ to reach an agreement.
Plans for a Democratic filibuster âare stupid. I think itâs a big mistake,â he added.
Signaling that any hopes of a compromise are likely dead, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was able to successfully broker past disputes on judicial nominees thanks to his close relationship with several Democrats, said that this time he is done trying.
Talks between Democrats and Republicans in the last few days âdidnât go anywhere,â he told reporters, but declined to specify areas of disagreement.
McCain was part of a 2005 agreement between 14 senators of both parties to preserve the filibuster and allow the confirmation of several of former president George W. Bushâs federal court nominees.
But negotiations arenât possible in todayâs Senate âbecause thereâs much more partisanship, thereâs much more outside influence on both ends of the spectrum, and you donât have the kind of comity that you had in those times,â McCain said. âThey were tough partisan times, but when it came crunchtime we sat down together.â
With all Republicans expected to vote to confirm Gorsuch, just a few Democratic holdouts remain. Three Democrats â Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Manchin III (W. Va.) say they plan to support Gorsuch. Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), who represents Gorsuchâs home state, says he wonât support the filibuster but has yet to signal whether he would vote to confirm Gorsuch. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) is one of the few holdouts, and said on Tuesday that he isnât ready yet to announce a decision.
Gorsuch was nominated by Trump on Jan. 31 and spent weeks privately meeting with senators and preparing for his confirmation hearings. He was questioned by the Judiciary Committee last month for almost 20 hours over three days, answering nearly 1,200 questions and later sending about 70 pages of answers to written follow-up questions, according to a team of White House officials assisting with his nomination.
As of Friday, Gorsuch had met with 78 senators â all but some of the most conservative and liberal lawmakers, whose votes are likely to fall along party lines. But three first-term Democratic senators, Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) and Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), complained that they were unable to get a face-to-face meeting with the nominee or were not offered the opportunity.
This weekâs anticipated change in Senate procedure dates to 2013, when Democrats, angered by Republican opposition to then-President Barack Obamaâs nominees voted to end filibusters of executive branch and lower-court nominees. Republicans warned then that there might one day be retribution.
âChanging the rules is almost inevitable; itâs only a question of when,â said Norm Ornstein, a longtime congressional expert and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Ornstein warned that with Republicans set to extend the filibuster ban to Supreme Court nominees, they may soon face pressure to end filibusters of legislation to keep major health-care and tax reform bills passed by the GOP-led House from stalling in the more closely divided Senate.
McConnell âwill resist the change in some cases because itâs in his interest not only when heâs in the minority again but also to be able to rely on Democrats when the House sends you crazy things,â Ornstein said. âAnd because itâs not clear they have the 51 votes necessary to change the rules for filibusters on legislation.â
But McConnell said on NBCâs âMeet the Pressâ on Sunday that âI donât think the legislative filibuster is in danger.â
Schumer, appearing on the same program, agreed. âI donât think thereâs any thirst to change the legislative rules,â he said. âMost Democrats and most Republicans have served in both the minority and majority and know what it means.â