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Southern GOP, Democratic senators split on using “nuclear option” in Gorsuch fight

Senate eliminates filibusters of Supreme Court nominees in party-line vote

WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the support of all 24 Southern Republicans, the U.S. Senate has changed its rules to eliminate filibusters for Supreme Court nominations, clearing the way for confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to a lifetime seat on the high court.

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch

After Democrats blocked Gorsuch’s nomination with a filibuster, the Republican majority used a parliamentary maneuver to change Senate rules, eliminating the need to reach 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

That vote fell along party lines, with 52 Republicans in favor, 46 Democrats opposed and two independents who caucus with Democrats also voting against the move.

With the filibuster out of the way, Gorsuch was confirmed by a vote of 54 to 45, with just three Democrats supporting him, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Three of the four Southern Democratic senators — Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia — supported the filibuster and voted against confirming Gorsuch. While Manchin did not join the filibuster and voted for confirmation, he did not support the move by Republican leaders to eliminate filibusters for Supreme Court nominees.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Manchin released a statement blistering both sides for “hypocrisy” and charging that the filibuster fight illustrates “precisely what is wrong with Washington.”

“Frustratingly, both parties have traded talking points: Republicans say it’s about obstructionism and Democrats say it’s a power grab. Their shifting positions and hypocrisy is the one thing that unites them,” he said.

Manchin also noted that in 2013, when Democrats used their majority to end filibusters for executive branch nominees, “every Republican Senator joined me in opposing the rules change then, but now, they stand united to do exactly what they opposed.”

Manchin is up for re-election in 2018 in a state President Donald Trump carried by a whopping 32 points. Warner and Kaine’s opposition to Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee presents less political risk in Virginia, the only Southern state Trump failed to carry last November.

Nelson, however, is also up for re-election in 2018 in a state Trump won and could be facing a formidable Republican foe in Florida Governor Rick Scott.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida

In a statement announcing his decision to oppose Gorsuch, Nelson said he has “real concerns with (Gorsuch’s) thinking on protecting the right to vote and allowing unlimited money in political campaigns. In addition, the judge has consistently sided with corporations over employees.”

“I will vote no on the motion to invoke cloture (to end the filibuster) and, if that succeeds, I will vote no on his confirmation,” Nelson said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately released a statement noting that Nelson had opposed a previous Democratic filibuster of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in 2006 and had previously voted to confirm Gorsuch to a seat on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“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, an NRSC spokeswoman. “Nelson has been in Washington too long and his move to ignore the will of voters in Florida will cost him his job in 2018.”

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine

Kaine, who is also up for re-election in 2018, is also being pounded by Republicans, particularly over a remark he made during the 2016 campaign saying he would support the “nuclear option” if Republicans filibustered any of Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees. At the time, Kaine was Clinton’s running mate.

In a lengthy statement explaining his support for the filibuster, Kaine noted that Republicans refused to consider President Obama’s selection of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, for which Gorsuch was nominated. He also said the filibuster, which Gorsuch would need 60 votes to overcome, ensures that high court nominees “receive significant bipartisan support.”

“That is especially important now given the many important issues pending before the court and the clear need to fill a position long held vacant through blatant partisan politics with someone who can bring independence and non-partisanship to the job,” Kaine said.

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