Yesterday, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon made the oafish announcement that he planned to filibuster President Trump’s Supreme Court pick, no matter who it was. Speculation ran rampant on the right that this was part of a larger plan by the Democrat Senate leadership. If so, they may be reconsidering:
Senate Democrats are weighing whether to avoid an all-out war to block President Donald Trump’s upcoming Supreme Court pick, instead considering delaying that battle for a future nomination that could shift the ideological balance of the court, sources say.
Democrats privately discussed their tactics during a closed-door retreat in West Virginia last week. And a number of Democrats are trying to persuade liberal firebrands to essentially let Republicans confirm Trump’s pick after a vigorous confirmation process — since Trump is likely to name a conservative to replace the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
The reason for the tactic: Republicans are considering gutting the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees if Democrats stay largely united and block Trump’s first pick. By employing the so-called “nuclear option,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could move to reduce the threshold for clearing a filibuster from 60 votes to 51 votes.
That would mean Democrats could lose leverage in the next Supreme Court fight if Trump were to replace a more liberal justice, since the GOP now has 52 seats in the Senate.
Of course, this may just be a move to undo the rhetorical damage from Merkley’s ham-handed declaration. This way, now they can pretend that their filibuster was really because this particular nominee (read: anyone Trump names) was just so, so extreme!
It really is the wrong time for Democrats to go ballistic. Justice Scalia was one of the most conservative justices in decades. No matter who Trump names, it will maintain the balance of power that has existed for years — one that has brought plenty of victories for the left. Sure, the left would like to make some gains, but you have to win a Presidency and some Senate races to do that, don’t you?
Given Mitch McConnell’s recent unwise declaration that the nuclear option is off the table, the Democrats’ decision whether to filibuster the nominee announced today will be very consequential.