Mitch McConnell to Chuck Schumer: The ball’s in your court now, pal. The Senate majority leader told Fox’s Chris Wallace yesterday on Fox News Sunday that he expects Democrats to offer the same courtesy of an up-or-down vote for the next Supreme Court nominee, no matter who it is, as Republicans did for Barack Obama’s two appointments … but not his third, of course. McConnell tells Wallace when asked about the “nuclear option” of eliminating the filibuster on SCOTUS appointments that Trump’s nominee will get confirmed — no matter what Shumer decides to do.
The exchange comes at the 5:30 mark:
WALLACE: Finally, President Trump says he wants to name a Supreme Court nominee. He’s talked about doing it within two weeks. And Senator Schumer has said that they’re going to block anyone that they don’t like, that they feel is outside the mainstream.
As Senate rules now stand, because the — the nuclear option was — was extended, it — on a partial level in 2013 by the Democrats, you can confirm lower court judges with just 51 votes.
WALLACE: A simple majority, not a — a supermajority of 60 votes. If the Democrats block a Supreme Court nominee, are you going to extend the nuclear option to Supreme Court nominees because now they still need 60 votes?
MCCONNELL: Well, let me just say, I’m confident we’ll get a Supreme Court nominees confirmed. I expect an outstanding nominee sometime soon. I think it’s noteworthy to look at how the Republican minority handled Bill Clinton the first — in his first administration. Both — both of his first two nominees, Ginsburg and Breyer, no filibuster. Obama, in his first term, to go, no filibuster. We think our nominee ought to be treated the same way. If he is not treated that way, then, under the current Senate rule, we would have to get cloture. That is, we’d have to get 60 votes. We had to do that when the Democrats objecting to Justice Alito 10 years ago, but cloture was invoked. Sorry for the long answer. I think the short answer is, the nominee will be confirmed.
WALLACE: But would you consider extending the nuclear option and saying, even for Supreme Court justices, just a simple majority?
MCCONNELL: The nominee will be confirmed.
WALLACE: One thing I’ve learned with you, Senator McConnell, is once you’ve given an answer, you’re going to stick with that.
This is no doubt more pointed — and required — after Schumer reneged on a pledge to expedite the confirmation of Mike Pompeo as CIA director. Stephen Hayes reports on the betrayal of Schumer’s promise:
According to six sources familiar with the negotiations over Pompeo’s confirmation, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told Republican leaders that he would allow Pompeo to be confirmed by voice vote on Inauguration Day, along with two other Trump nominees who have national security responsibilities. But Schumer broke his promise, these sources say, and offered an insulting excuse for having done so. …
Schumer told Cotton that the Senate had never previously confirmed a CIA director on Inauguration Day and if Cotton had been around eight years earlier, he’d know that Republicans didn’t extend that courtesy for incoming president Barack Obama. “Eight years ago, I was getting my ass shot at in Afghanistan,” Cotton snapped. “So don’t talk to me about where I was 8 years ago.”
Cotton asked Schumer why he’d gone back on his word. Schumer claimed that he’d only been speaking for himself when he promised to let Pompeo through. “I said that I would not block him,” Schumer said, emphasizing the personal pronoun, according to sources who witnessed the exchange. “I never said that I could speak for 47 other Democrats.” …
Burr, not known for his aggressiveness, pointedly told Schumer that Republicans had learned something important about taking Schumer at his word. “I won’t make that mistake again,” he said.
Indeed. That brings us to just how much Schumer wants to test that resolve, and when. Last week, the presumption was that Trump would nominate William Pryor to replace the late Antonin Scalia, and Democrats have a history of trying to block Pryor’s confirmations to the judiciary. Over the weekend, though, Neil Gorsuch’s name began to float out as a short-lister, and Gorsuch sailed through his Senate confirmation to the appellate bench in 2006. Gorsuch is five years younger than Pryor and considered as conservative. A Gorsuch appointment would make a filibuster rather untenable for Schumer, given the lack of Democratic concern over his previous confirmation.
The conventional wisdom was that Schumer would probably give the first nomination a relative pass, considering that Republicans would be replacing a conservative with a conservative, but that Trump might look for someone provocative to get the nuclear-option fight over early. After the betrayal over Pompeo, that’s probably no longer necessary. Senate Republicans may well be happy to strip Schumer of any last vestige of leverage over Supreme Court appointments — and Schumer, knowing this, may well instruct his caucus to refrain from giving the GOP the opportunity.