Atkins: Neil Gorsuch 'nuclear' option looms large
WASHINGTON - In the grueling, largely theatrical exercise that Supreme Court nomination hearings have become, Judge Neil Gorsuch performed fairly well - but not well enough to stop the looming "nuclear" war over his nomination.
Gorsuch did just about everything a Supreme Court justice is supposed to do: He discussed broad legal principles in an intelligent, if vague and general way; he tried to be charming and even funny at times; and he did everything possible not to give an opinion of any kind about past or potential future Supreme Court cases. He even said he found President Trump's verbal attacks on federal judges "disheartening" and "demoralizing."
What he certainly didn't do is win over enough Democrats to win confirmation under the current 60-vote threshold. Republicans have only 52 seats in the Senate.
That gives Senate Leader Mitch McConnell one choice to pave Gorsuch's way to the nation's highest court: employ the so-called "nuclear option" of changing Senate rules to allow Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed by a simple majority.
That's the approach Democrat and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used in 2013 for all judicial nominees except those for the Supreme Court - a move Democrats must certainly regret now that Republicans control both Congress and the White House.
But it was a Republican yesterday who warned of the dangerous precedent set by Reid.
"I believe that that vote, on November the 21st, 2013, forever changed the way the Senate works when it comes to executive appointments, judicial nominations, and will do long-term damage to the judiciary as a whole because the most ideological will be rewarded," said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., admonishing Democrats not to filibuster Gorsuch's nomination. "We don't have that requirement yet for the Supreme Court and I hope we never will."
But it's the Republicans, not the Democrats, who will decide that.
Given Democrats' lingering anger over the GOP's yearlong block of Obama nominee Judge Merrick Garland, and calling Gorsuch an "activist" who puts the interests of corporations and religious conservatives above those of consumers and workers, getting eight Democrats to cross party lines is a virtual impossibility.
Will McConnell, who was critical of Reid's nuclear move more than three years ago, follow suit to place Gorsuch on the bench where he could sit for decades? Of course he will.