MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — President Donald Trump urged Majority leader Mitch McConnell to change the rules of the Senate to push his Supreme Court nominee closer to confirmation.
Trump’s words immediately escalated what’s shaping up as a feverish partisan battle over his pick – Judge Neil Gorsuch.
Trump’s endorsement of a scenario known on Capitol Hill as the “nuclear option” came the morning after he announced Gorsuch’s nomination.
“I would say, if you can, Mitch, go nuclear because that would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was caught up in the web,” Trump said at the White House.
“The decision is ultimately something we would not want to have to go down,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer during a daily briefing.
McConnell has not said whether he might invoke the nuclear option if minority Democrats block Gorsuch’s confirmation, as several already are threatening to do. But the Senate leader has said repeatedly that, one way or another, Gorsuch will be confirmed.
The nuclear option would mean unilaterally lowering the threshold needed to approve Gorsuch from 60 to 50 votes, so that Republicans could use their 52-vote majority to put him on the court without Democrats’ consent.
Meantime, Gorsuch spent his first day as Supreme Court nominee meeting with Senators on Capitol Hill who will decide his nomination.
“This is a first opportunity to meet with Judge Gorsuch. I think the president made an outstanding appointment,” said McConnell.
If the threshold is not changed, Gorsuch will need to get past Senate Democrats who are still furious that Republicans blocked Judge Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination for 293 days.
Like many Senate Democrats, Connecticut’s Dick Blumenthal expressed skepticism Tuesday night but not outright opposition.
“I’m troubled by his stance on privacy rights, particularly women’s healthcare, worker and consumer protections, public health, and safety. I’m going to continue to review his record,” said Blumenthal.
Others believe Gorsuch is too conservative
“I do believe he’s outside the mainstream of traditional American jurisprudence and I think the democrats should do everything they can in order to block his nomination from being successful,” said Sen. Ed Marke (D-Massachusetts).
Democrats say the filibuster rule is in place for a reason and the nuclear option should not be used.
“On a subject as important as the Supreme Court nomination, bipartisan support should be a prerequisite. It should be essential. That’s what 60 votes does,” said Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
Meanwhile, Republicans were thrilled and praised Gorsuch as an “impressive” and “respected” consistent Conservative.
“I think it is very tough, very tough to attack this judge’s credentials…you look at his judicial experience great temperament,” said South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune.
That temperament helped Gorsuch win unanimous approval from the Senate in 2006 when he was up for appeals court judge.
Among those who did not oppose his nomination were then-Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Schumer.
Democrats are in no mood to hand Republicans an easy victory after they successfully blocked former president Obama’s Supreme Court nominee for 10 months.
Republican leader Mitch McConnell insists it’s apples and oranges.
“This is the beginning of a four-year term. This is not in the middle of a presidential election,” said McConnell.
If Republicans do change the rules, then the 60-vote threshhold won’t be available to them the next time they’re the minority party.
Earlier, President Trump met with African-American leaders to kick off the start of African-American History month.
“This story is one of unimaginable sacrifice,” said Trump who hosted a listening session. “I am proud to honor this heritage and will be honoring it more and more.”
President Trump voiced promises he would like to keep during his time as president with Dr. Ben Carson by his side – his new Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary.
“We need more jobs. We need better wages. We’re going to work a lot in the inner cities,” said Trump.
The president called for an end to violence in the country – specifically pointing out Chicago.
“What’s happening in Chicago should not be happening in this country,” said Trump.
Also on Wednesday, Trump was scheduled to meet with his pick for Secretary of State – former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson. By Wednesday afternoon, Tillerson was confirmed as Secretary of State.
Just before 4 p.m., President Trump went on a unannouned trip meant to honor slain Navy SEAL William Owens killed in Yemen during a mission.