President Donald Trump said Wednesday he will urge Senate Republicans to scrap filibuster rules, or take the “nuclear option,” if Democrats in the increasingly tense chamber use them to block his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
After Trump nominated the 49-year-old conservative appellate judge to the top U.S. court Tuesday night, Democrats signaled they could delay the process. If they filibuster, Republicans, who have 52 Senate seats, would need 60 votes to confirm him unless they change the rule on the maneuver.
Trump told reporters at the White House he would encourage Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to take that route, which would require only a simple majority.
“Yes, if we end up with the same gridlock that they’ve had in Washington, … if we end up with that gridlock, I’d say, ‘If you can, Mitch, go nuclear.’ Because that would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was caught up in this web.”
Trump’s choice sets up a second straight year of bitter partisanship over the court seat, which was left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia nearly a year ago. Then-President Barack Obama nominated Washington appellate Judge Merrick Garland for the spot, but the Republican-controlled Senate never held a vote on him.
At his age, Gorsuch could help to tip the ideological balance of the court for decades. Democrats, already combative about the seat because of Garland, criticized Trump’s pick due to Gorsuch’s rulings such issues as gun rights and religious objections to a birth control coverage provision in the Affordable Care Act.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday night the Senate “must insist upon 60 votes for any Supreme Court nominee.” He repeated that on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., among other Democrats, pledged to oppose Gorsuch’s nomination.
McConnell has not explicitly endorsed scrapping the filibuster rule, but has urged Democrats to hear Gorsuch out fairly.
The 60 vote rules applies to Supreme Court justices. Other federal judges only need a majority in the 100-seat Senate.
Trump on Wednesday called Gorsuch an “exceptionally qualified person” and said he wants him to go through an “elegant process.”
“I really think he’s a very dignified man and I’d like to see him go through a dignified process,” he said.
Gorsuch is an appeals judge for the 10th Circuit in Colorado. He was nominated to the role in 2006 by then-President George W. Bush and was confirmed by voice vote.
Partisan tensions in the Senate have ramped up in the early days of Trump’s administration. Senate Democrats boycotted the Finance Committee vote on Trump’s nominees to lead the Treasury and Health and Human Services departments, and Republicans advanced them Wednesday without the other party present.