Political battle begins for Gorsuch confirmation

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Supreme Court Nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch (C) arrives for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2017.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTX2Z6SZ

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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump has named his Supreme Court nominee, and now the battle begins for his confirmation.

Senators form both political parties began lining up today, and Mr. Trump warned Democrats not to filibuster.

Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

LISA DESJARDINS: The president was out early today, touting the man he wants on the high court, Neil Gorsuch.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He is just a spectacular man. I think he will be a spectacular — you tell me, how would they go about opposing him? He’s perfect in almost every way.

LISA DESJARDINS: That at a meeting of conservative and business groups, from the Chamber of Commerce, to the National Rifle Association, to the National Right to Life Foundation. Mr. Trump vowed to push through Gorsuch, and, if Democrats filibuster, he said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should do what it takes.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If we end up with that gridlock, 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 this web.

LISA DESJARDINS: The so-called nuclear option, considered a monumental change in rules, would allow the Senate to confirm a nominee with a simple majority, rather than 60 votes.

Senator McConnell met with Gorsuch on Capitol Hill today. On the Senate floor, no mention of the nuclear option. But McConnell stressed that Democrats supported Gorsuch to be a federal appeals judge in 2006.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Majority Leader: He was confirmed without any votes in opposition. That’s right, Madam President, not a single Democrat opposed Judge Gorsuch’s nomination. Not Senator Barack Obama, not Senator Hillary Clinton, not Senators Joe Biden or Ted Kennedy.

LISA DESJARDINS: But Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said any talk of a rule change should be off the table.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: The answer shouldn’t be to change the rules of the Senate, but to change the nominee to someone who can earn 60 votes; 60 votes produces a mainstream candidate.

LISA DESJARDINS: Already several Democrats said they will try to hold up Gorsuch’s confirmation, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, among others.

Many are still outraged over the Republican refusal last year to consider Merrick Garland, former President Obama’s pick to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. As it stands, all 52 Senate Republicans are expected to support Gorsuch. They need at least eight other votes to get to 60. One possible factor, 23 Democratic senators are up for reelection in 2018, including 10 in states that Mr. Trump won last November.

The Senate did vote today to confirm former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. And the nominee for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, made it out of committee on a straight, party-line vote.

In an extraordinary hearing, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee suspended their rules to push through nominees for treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, and health and human services, Tom Price, that after Democrats boycotted and froze the committee, which requires at least one Democrat be present.

In response, Republican Chairman Orrin Hatch moved to suspend that rule.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, R-Utah: We took some unprecedented actions today due to the unprecedented obstruction on the part of our colleagues.

LISA DESJARDINS: Elsewhere, Democrats delayed committee votes on the nominees to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, and Office of Budget and Management, Mick Mulvaney.

Meanwhile, two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, broke ranks to say they wouldn’t vote for Mr. Trump’s choice for education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-Maine: I’m concerned that Mrs. DeVos’ lack of experience with public schools will make it difficult for her to fully understand, identify and assist with those challenges.

LISA DESJARDINS: No Democrats have said they will vote for DeVos. If all other Republicans back her, she would end up with a 50-50 vote and Vice President Mike Pence would have to break the tie.

And that critical vote on Betsy DeVos is expected Friday — Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Lisa, you reported a moment ago that Mr. Gorsuch, Judge Gorsuch, hit the ground running. They feel pressure to get this thing moving quickly?

LISA DESJARDINS: They do. This is an incredibly aggressive timeline.

Judy, today, Mr. Gorsuch had six meetings at the Capitol, five of those with Republicans. Interesting, that’s approaching the total number of Republicans who ever met with Merrick Garland just today. Republicans are trying to define him as middle of the road. Democrats, of course, are not so sure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lisa, you also referred to 10 Democrats who you said are — suggested are important to this process. What do we know about them?

LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right. That’s a pivotal group.

We already know one of those Democrats, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, is a no vote on Mr. Gorsuch. So that leaves nine more for the eight votes the Republicans would need. They have to get almost all of them. Most of them are holding back, not really tipping their hand yet, but I talked to perhaps the most critical one, Joe Manchin of West Virginia today.

Interesting, Judy, he told me he has some real concerns about Mr. Gorsuch. Specifically, he said campaign finance. Mr. Gorsuch has ruled against stricter campaign finance, and Joe Manchin said that that’s a concern of his.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally, Lisa, turning to the Cabinet, when does it look as if, if you know, the president is going to get all these Cabinet choices confirmed?

LISA DESJARDINS: I love that question, because I have to tell you the atmosphere up here is nothing like I have ever experienced. It’s such a frenzy. But that’s the bottom line. Right?

I think, given the way Democrats are handling things right now, blocking, delaying, questioning as much as they can, I think it will be weeks before President Trump could see all of his Cabinet nominees in place.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Lisa Desjardins reporting for us from the Capitol, thank you, Lisa.

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