WASHINGTON — Judge Neil M. Gorsuch earned warm praise from Senate Republicans as he visited Capitol Hill today a day after President Donald Trump nominated him to the Supreme Court.
Democratic divisions were on display as the Senate minority struggled for a strategy to oppose the conservative judge.
Accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, Gorsuch met first with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who called him an “outstanding appointment” and declared: “We’re all thrilled and looking forward to getting the confirmation process started.”
Pence said the administration looked forward to the Senate performing its constitutional advice and consent role in the nomination process, and to senators having the opportunity to getting to know Gorsuch, a 49-year-old Denver-based judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals whose conservative legal philosophy is seen as similar to that of the late justice Antonin G. Scalia.
“I think as they do, they’ll come to understand the enthusiasm the president of the United States has for his appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States,” Pence said.
A handful of Democrats immediately announced their opposition to the choice, insisting that Gorsuch, the Ivy League-educated son of a former Reagan Cabinet official, is outside the mainstream.
Democrats are still furious with the way Republicans treated former President Barack Obama’s nominee for the open seat last year; the GOP refused to even grant a hearing or a vote to Judge Merrick B. Garland in Obama’s final year in office.
Instead, the seat remained empty for 10 months and the court operated with eight justices as McConnell maintained that the next president should make the nomination.
“This is a stolen seat being filled by an illegitimate and extreme nominee, and I will do everything in my power to stand up against this assault on the court,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
Merkley said even before the nominee was announced that he will hold up the nomination and force Republicans to find 60 votes for confirmation. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority.
However, earlier today it was revealed that the first phone call Gorsuch made after being nominated to the Supreme Court was to Garland.
It was a courtesy call by Gorsuch. The phone call by Gorsuch was confirmed by Ron Bonjean, who is assisting the judge through the nominations process.
While Merkley was outspoken, other Democrats were holding off on announcing their position on Gorsuch, saying he deserved the full and fair hearing Garland was denied.
“I think that he is owed what Judge Garland never got which is a full hearing, a chance for the American people over several days to better understand his views on the Constitution and a wide range of the rights that are central to our Republic,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a Senate Judiciary Committee member.
The Judiciary Committee will aim to begin hearings on Gorsuch in about six weeks’ time, according to a spokeswoman for the panel’s chairman, Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York he said after the nomination was announced that the Senate “must insist” on 60 votes, the threshold for a filibuster, meaning McConnell would need bipartisan support unless he changes Senate rules to lower the threshold for Gorsuch to 50 votes, a scenario known as the “nuclear option.”
Schumer and Democrats are under intense pressure from liberal groups and the party base to challenge every Trump nominee. As the nomination was announced, hundreds were protesting at Schumer’s Brooklyn home, pressuring him to vote against Cabinet picks and block the Supreme Court nominee.
A handful of other Democrats joined Merkley in immediately opposing Gorsuch. They included Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who said Gorsuch has sided with large companies over workers, and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who said Gorsuch’s rulings haven’t favored American workers or women’s rights. Brown and Warren are up for re-election in 2018.
Warren’s Massachusetts colleague, Democratic Sen. Ed Markey, also said he will oppose Gorsuch. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden indicated he would as well, citing Gorsuch’s stand against laws that allow terminally ill people to end their lives.
Schumer is in a tough position. As liberal groups and Democratic voters angry about Trump’s election victory press him to lead the loyal opposition, he must also be mindful of 23 Democrats and two independents up for re-election in 2018, including 10 in states won by Trump.
Some of those senators could face blowback from voters who see Democrats as obstructing Trump’s pick. And some might decide to vote for Gorsuch.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he had little sympathy for fellow Senate Democrats feeling pressure to support Trump’s nominee because they’re running for re-election in 2018 in states that Trump won. Manchin is among those up for re-election in 2018.
“I didn’t come here to say, ‘Oh my goodness, if I don’t do this, I might not get re-elected,’” Manchin said today on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” He’s said he will examine Gorsuch’s record and make “a determination of whether to provide my consent.”