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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

‘Nuclear’ cloud looms over Trump agenda

‘Nuclear’ cloud looms over Trump agenda
By Alexander Bolton - 04-04-17 19:54 PM EDT

Senators in both parties predict blowing up the Senate's rules to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch will inflict serious damage on the institution.

Democrats are mulling whether to employ the same retaliatory tactics that Republicans used in 2013 after Democrats triggered the "nuclear option" to prevent the GOP from filibustering President Obama's executive branch and judicial nominees.

"They used the age-old Senate tactic of slowing things to a crawl, which you can do under the rules of the Senate," said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), referring to Republicans.

"I can't tell you what's going to happen next," he said. "We need to sit down and see where we are when this is finished."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed disappointment on Tuesday that Democrats would filibuster President Trump's nominee but vowed that Gorsuch would be confirmed on Friday one way or another.

If Democrats decide to slow things down in the Senate, it will throw up additional obstacles for President Trump's agenda.

A test will come when lawmakers return later this month to work on a spending package that must pass by April 28 to avoid a government shutdown.

Democrats are warning GOP colleagues not to downplay the consequences of a rule change that Republicans only a few years ago condemned as "breaking the rules to change the rules."

"This fallout will be dangerously and perhaps disastrously radioactive for the Senate in years to come," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who argued that scrapping the filibuster for the Supreme Court is a major escalation of partisan tactics compared to the 2013 decision to ease the confirmation of lower-court and executive-branch nominees.

Centrists who are most likely to work with the Trump administration on tax reform or an infrastructure package are warning Republicans not to go forward with the rule change.

"It's just one more big destructive step," said Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.), who since coming to the Senate has tried to carve out a role for himself as a pragmatist and dealmaker. "If they choose to break the rules, use the nuclear option, that's a big negative step."

At the same time, Republicans feel they have little reason to offer concessions to Democrats, who have shown little interest in working with Trump.

A troubling sign for the president, who has few legislative accomplishments under his belt, is that two Democrats representing states he won last year by double digits, Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), are filibustering his court pick.

The president's approval rating has sunk as low as 35 percent, according to a Gallup daily poll released last week.

McConnell downplayed the potential impact on the Senate, arguing that a rule change would return the Senate to its tradition of not filibustering judicial nominees.

He noted that Democrats gave Justice Clarence Thomas an up-or-down vote in 1991 when they had a five-seat majority, even though his nomination by then-President George H.W. Bush was viewed as highly controversial.

Some suggest the repercussions of the GOP going nuclear will be less dramatic than they were in 2013.

When then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) deployed the controversial tactic, it caught Republicans largely by surprise and was the first time it was used in years.

It has less shock value now, and Republicans have been warning for months they would change the rules if Democrats blocked Gorsuch.

There has been a sense of resignation more than outrage as it became clear over the past two weeks that Gorsuch would not reach the 60-vote threshold to end a filibuster.

Not all Republicans are convinced the fallout will be minimal, however.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters that whoever thinks the Senate will be a "better place" after the nuclear option "is a stupid idiot."

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said, "I don't think it's helpful," but also asked, "Can it get worse?"

And Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Trump's most promising potential Democratic ally in the Senate, was also pessimistic.

"We like to think it couldn't get any worse, but it seems every day it surprises you," he said of the bitter partisanship that has intensified during this week's Supreme Court debate. "Sometimes everything becomes pretty personal."

But while Democrats are angry, they are not as upset as Republicans were a few years ago when Reid invoked the nuclear option.

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