After three days of breezily proficient testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Neil Gorsuch emerged unscathed. The high court nominee deftly parried the barbed queries that came his way, calmly defusing and in some cases disarming his more heated inquisitors on the dais. The proceedings as a whole were anticlimactic, particularly in light of the frenzied health-care drama playing out on the other side of Capitol Hill. And yet less than 12 hours after the Judiciary Committee wrapped up its work for the week, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took to the floor of the Senate to announce his intention to deny Gorsuch cloture, calling on his colleagues to join him in a procedural blockade of the judge’s nomination and daring Republicans to change the longstanding rules of the chamber.
As to whether his members will answer the call to filibuster Gorsuch, the signals to date have been mixed. While purple-state centrists like Florida Sen. Bill Nelson have flashed uncharacteristic resolve, liberal stalwart and former Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont indicated that he was “not inclined” to deny the nominee an up or down vote. The fate of the gambit will hinge on the intentions of nearly 20 remaining holdouts from various wings of the party.
In the midst of the hearings, a few Democrats even floated a deal to confirm the 10th Circuit judge in exchange for a commitment from the GOP not to go nuclear on a hypothetical future vacancy—though Schumer quickly shot them down. On one level, the proffer makes sense—it’s always better to be for what’s inevitably going to happen, particularly if it means you can extract concessions in return.
But with the spectacular collapse of the GOP health care bill last week and signs of continued deterioration in President Trump’s standing in public opinion polls in the interim, Democrats feel the wind at their backs. There is little Trump and his party could offer that would make it worth the grief they’ll inevitably face from their own voters for standing down. And given the GOP’s recent propensity for self-immolation, who is to say they won’t screw this up?