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Trump Tells GOP To 'Go Nuclear' If Democrats Block Supreme Court Nominee


It was just last night that President Trump announced Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee, and the confirmation fight is already on. The judge's place on the high court now depends on the willingness of Senate Democrats to offer up eight yes votes. Any fewer and Republicans will need a drastic plan B to get Gorsuch confirmed. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: And so it begins - the parade of courtesy meetings with senators, the photographers, a personal escort by the vice president.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: It's my honor to escort Judge Gorsuch to Capitol Hill for his first meeting.

CHANG: The pageantry may have just begun, but the partisan warfare is already in full swing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the floor today accusing Democrats of slamming a Supreme Court nominee they've barely begun vetting.


MITCH MCCONNELL: The ink was not even dry on Judge Gorsuch's nomination when the Democratic leader proclaimed that Judge Gorsuch had - you guessed it - demonstrated a hostility toward women's rights.

CHANG: Not just women's rights, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer says he's worried about the rights of all everyday people. Schumer says he's concerned with how often Neil Gorsuch has sided with companies in employment discrimination cases and how lenient he seems to be on political spending by corporations.


CHUCK SCHUMER: It seems that President Trump, who has said he would be for the working man and woman, has not chosen someone who routinely sides with the average American.

CHANG: Not once on the floor did Schumer mention the name of the man Republicans refused to confirm last year, but Schumer doesn't have to utter his name.


CHRIS MURPHY: You know, the ghost of Merrick Garland still floats around this place, no doubt.

CHANG: Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut says the idea now for Democrats is to make the case against the nominee on the merits. What Democrats don't want to get accused of is blocking Gorsuch's confirmation out of sheer vindictiveness over how Republicans treated Judge Merrick Garland last year. Here's Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware.


CHRIS COONS: It is, of course, only human to want some revenge for this unprecedented theft.

CHANG: But it's not a storyline that will play well in the 2018 midterms. And Coons says his side intends to show people they will behave better than Republicans did after President Obama tried to fill the Supreme Court vacancy last year.


COONS: Let's follow the process. Let's do what didn't happen last year. Let's have a full hearing on committee.

CHANG: But what happens after that is where all the drama will be. It will take 60 votes to confirm Gorsuch, which means if fewer than eight Democrats support him, the confirmation is blocked or filibustered. So the pressure now is on those Democrats up for re-election in states Donald Trump decisively won, like Joe Manchin of West Virginia.


JOE MANCHIN: I'm not a filibuster-type guy.

CHANG: Manchin says he'll carefully review Gorsuch's record before he decides on his confirmation.


MANCHIN: Just stopping it or stonewalling it or protesting it or filibustering it for the sake of doing that is not who I am, and I won't do that.

CHANG: If Democrats do end up blocking Gorsuch's confirmation, Republicans could pull out a weapon - the nuclear option. That's a maneuver that would change the Senate rules so a Supreme Court nominee would need only 51 votes instead of 60 to get confirmed. At least one Republican is aggressively pushing for that strategy.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But if we end up with that gridlock, I would say, if you can, Mitch, go nuclear.

CHANG: But Leader McConnell has been mum about whether he's taking President Trump's advice. McConnell will need 51 votes to invoke the nuclear option, and out of 52 Republicans, one has already said she's not going to support the move - Susan Collins of Maine.


SUSAN COLLINS: I am not a proponent of changing the rules of the Senate. I hope that common sense will prevail.

CHANG: If it does, Republicans hope to have Gorsuch sworn in by April. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.