Author : JORDAIN CARNEY
Posted : 03/27/17 THE HILL
Senate Democrats emboldened by the GOP’s failure to repeal and replace ObamaCare are increasingly coming out against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, narrowing Neil Gorsuch’s path to confirmation.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) on Monday announced he would vote against ending debate on Gorsuch’s nomination.
Nelson, one of several Democrats to announce their opposition on Monday, was a significant blow to Gorsuch because he represents a state won by President Trump and faces reelection in 2018.
He’s also one of three Democrats remaining in the Senate who voted to end debate on Justice Samuel Alito’s nomination in 2006.
“I will vote no on the motion to invoke cloture and, if that succeeds, I will vote no on his confirmation,” Nelson said Monday.
Gorsuch’s prospects for ending a filibuster got a boost later on Monday when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told a reporter for NBC that he would vote to end debate on the nomination. Manchin said he had not yet decided whether he will back Gorsuch’s nomination.
Still, Nelson’s decision suggests Democrats are seeing better political prospects in opposing Trump and Gorsuch than in backing him and risking the ire of the left.
The decision suggests that Nelson and other Democrats see better political prospects in opposing Trump and Gorsuch than in backing him and risking the ire of the left.
In a similar sign, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, appeared to walk back comments that hinted he might oppose a filibuster against Gorsuch.
After telling a Vermont news outlet that he was “not inclined to filibuster,” Leahy tweeted that Gorsuch would be filibustered unless he “provides REAL answers to written Qs & senators have ample time for review & debate.”
Democrats are under enormous pressure from liberal groups to oppose Gorsuch after Republicans last year blocked Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Republicans need to find eight Democrats to vote to end debate to break a filibuster against Gorsuch.
Doing so would prevent them from having to use the nuclear option — voting to change the Senate’s rules to prohibit a filibuster against the Supreme Court nominee.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has signaled his willingness to take this step if Democrats block Gorsuch, who emerged relatively unscathed from last week’s confirmation hearings and is seen by Republicans as well-qualified for the court.
A path remains for the GOP to get to 60.
All 52 Republican senators will back ending debate on Gorsuch.
And a number of Democrats have not said how they will vote.
They include senators who are up for reelections in states won by Trump.
And while Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in Florida was close, he dominated the Democrat in North Dakota, Indiana, Montana and Missouri as well as West Virginia.
Those states are home to five of 2018’s most vulnerable Democratic incumbents: Sens. Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.). Four of the five have kept a tight lip on whether they’ll back Gorsuch.
The two other Democrats who backed Alito are Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), who says he will oppose Gorsuch, and Maria Cantwell (Wash.). Cantwell’s spokesman told the Seattle Times that she’s undecided and will meet with Gorsuch this week.
Republicans pounced on Nelson’s decision, pledging that the Supreme Court will be fodder for the 2018 Senate battle.
“Senator Bill Nelson proved to Floridians today that he no longer shares their values and instead is more politically aligned with the liberal elite of Washington,” said Katie Martin, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
But Nelson is not the only Democrat up for reelection in 2018 who opposes Gorsuch.
Another Democratic vote to watch is Sen. Michael Bennet, who represents Gorsuch’s home state of Colorado. He’s facing sustained pressure to back Gorsuch, whom he helped introduce at the committee last week.
If Republicans flip Bennet and the five most vulnerable red-state 2018 Senate Democrats, they’d just need two more to confirm Gorsuch.
King, who is up for reelection, hasn’t announced a decision on Gorsuch’s nomination and immediately distanced himself from a filibuster.
Shaheen isn’t up for reelection but is from a politically purple state. A spokeswoman told The Hill on Monday that she is undecided and is “currently reviewing hearing transcripts.”
Gorsuch’s nomination is expected to come to the Senate floor next week, after Democrats on the Judiciary Committee delayed an initial vote on his nomination until Monday. Under the committee’s rules, any one senator can request that a nomination be held over the first time it appears on the agenda.
Republicans want to clear Gorsuch’s nomination before they leave for two weeks and have warned they could delay the Easter recess to confirm him.
And McConnell again threatened to go nuclear on Monday.
“This much is clear: If our Democratic colleagues choose to hold up this nominee, then they’re acknowledging that they’ll go to any length to block any Supreme Court nominee of a Republican president,” he said