WASHINGTON — Four Senate Democrats announced Monday they plan to oppose Colorado’s Neil Gorsuch, bringing the Democratic caucus to the 41 votes needed to sustain a filibuster against the Supreme Court nominee.
Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware, Dianne Feinstein of California, Mark Warner of Virginia and Patrick Leahy of Vermont said Monday they could not support Gorsuch.
That gave Democrats the 41 votes they needed to prevent the advancement of Gorsuch’s nomination under current chamber rules.
Gorsuch sits on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver and lives in Boulder.
“I am not ready to end debate on this issue, so I will be voting against cloture unless we are able as a body to finally sit down and find a way to avoid the nuclear option and ensure the process to fill the next vacancy on the court is not a narrowly partisan process, but rather an opportunity of both parties to weigh in and ensure we place a judge on the court who can secure support from members of both parties,” Coons said at the Senate judiciary committee hearing on Gorsuch’s nomination, becoming the 41st senator to say he will take part in the filibuster.
Knowing full well the filibuster would likely lead to Republicans using the “nuclear option” to permanently change Senate rules to confirm Gorsuch, Leahy shared his struggle over his decision but ultimately said he “cannot vote solely to protect an institution,” adding that he considers Americans’ rights at risk with Gorsuch’s nomination.
“I’ve often said the Senate at its best and can and should be the conscience of the nation, but I must first and foremost vote my conscience,” Leahy said. “I will not and can not support advancing this nomination.”
Earlier Monday, Colorado Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet said he would oppose any attempt at a filibuster and he likewise was against the nuclear option.
“Using the filibuster and nuclear option at this moment takes us in the wrong direction,” Bennet said. “I have spent the past several weeks trying to avoid this outcome. Changing the Senate rules now will only further politicize the Supreme Court and prevent the Senate from blocking more extreme judges in the future.”
Republicans, who hold a 52-48 majority, needed a total of 60 votes to end the filibuster. As of Monday morning, they had 55 votes, including three Democrats who are voting with them.
Three senators — two Democrats and one independent — remain undecided. However, even if those three senators were to side with Republicans, it wouldn’t be enough to avoid the filibuster.
The majority party can still get around the filibuster by changing Senate rules and using the controversial “nuclear option” to lower the threshold needed to end debate.
The Senate Judiciary Committee votes Monday on sending Gorsuch’s nomination to the full Senate.
Before voting, senators engaged in an at times testy debate over not only Gorsuch, but Republican action to block President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, last year.
Republicans defended their move to block Garland, saying they were worried about Hillary Clinton winning the election.
“If (Democrats) are going to oppose Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States, they will never vote and never support a nominee of this president. Because in the end, I think that’s really what gets their goat the most,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said.
“We keep hearing about Merrick Garland, but I guarantee if Hillary Clinton had the presidency, we’d never hear Merrick Garland’s name again because she would have had the opportunity to pick her own nominee to the Supreme Court.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., accused Democrats of obstructing Gorsuch’s nomination and expressed remorse that Republicans will have to use the nuclear option to get him confirmed.
“We will not have a successful filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee because if we have to we will change the rules, and looks like we are going to have to,” he said. “I hate that. I really, really do.”
Spending from outside groups has also been a hotly contested debate in Gorsuch’s nomination. Democrats have criticized Gorsuch for not speaking out against third-party groups, with undisclosed donors, who have spent millions in support of his nomination.
The debate continued during the hearing Monday.
“This nomination is not the usual nomination. It comes in a different way and it has proceeded in a way of excessive spending of dark money that in the time I have been on this committee I have never seen before,” said Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee.
Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, however, pointed to liberal groups that supported Supreme Court nominees appointed by President Barack Obama, like Garland.
“Now, I’ve never heard any Democrat complain about all that money that was spent last year,” Grassley said.
Gorsuch is expected to clear the committee likely on a party-line vote, which Republicans control 11-9.