WaPo: Gorsuch's candor may have Senate Dems in a pickle

Trump troll-fu or happy coincidence? In the end, it may not matter. The candor displayed by Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch over remarks made by Donald Trump has earned grudging respect from Senate Democrats, and that may be enough to avoid a fight over cloture, Sean Sullivan and Robert Costa report for the Washington Post:

Senate Democrats sent mixed signals the day after Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch expressed concerns about President Trump’s attacks on the federal judiciary — a sign that the judge’s comments could attract some badly needed Democratic support.

“To whisper to a senator but to refuse to say anything public is not close to a good enough show on independence. So from my view, not a good start for Judge Gorsuch. Not a good start,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), speaking on the Senate floor.

But Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, struck a more positive note about Gorsuch’s remarks, which came in a meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

“I for one appreciated them,” Feinstein said. “I think he was being truthful as to how he felt about it. And that was very much appreciated.” She said she wanted Gorsuch to have a “fair hearing process.”

So far, most of the comments from Democrats have been about allowing for the hearing, not for the vote. The issue of hearings is a sore spot for Senate Democrats after Republicans denied a hearing for Merrick Garland last year, and these comments are in part a not-so-subtle dig at Mitch McConnell that paints themselves as the Reasonable Party. They don’t have much choice, however, since Republicans still control whether nominees get hearings and whether they proceed out of committee. It’s a bit like taking credit for sunny weather.

Still, going even that far will anger the Democrats’ base, which claims that Republicans “stole” the seat from Obama and want it left open … until sometime after 2021, presumably. They want total obstruction, but Senate Democrats are finding out just how exhausting that is when there’re no way to win those standoffs. That alone may be enough to convince them not to force McConnell’s hand on the filibuster for a clearly qualified candidate like Gorsuch. If not, then recent polls showing just how little support their base’s desire for total political war has might do the trick instead:

President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch will likely be confirmed to the high court since Republicans control the Senate and Democrats may want to hold their powder until the next Court opening. But, Americans’ initial positive reactions to his nomination are another reason for Gorsuch — and Trump — to be optimistic about his confirmation chances.

In several polls conducted this month, Gorsuch received net positive ratings for his approval. He had a +13 point net approval rating among Americans in a Gallup poll, the same as in a CNN/ORC poll and a CBS News poll. In a Quinnipiac poll, Gorsuch received a +20 point net approval of his confirmation among registered voters.

The recent coverage of Gorsuch’s polite defense of judicial independence can’t help but make that situation even more fraught for Democrats. Their only real justification for obstruction is to paint Gorsuch as a potential Trump lackey, and that’s so clearly divorced from reality that it won’t sustain itself for long. Whether the White House planned those leaks or it happened as a coincidence, it’s cut the legs out from under Senate Democrats, and that should make Trump happy.

Even if all that is not enough for Senate Democrats, perhaps this endorsement might be. Former appellate judge and one-time shortlister for a Supreme Court nomination himself, Michael McConnell offers up his conclusions about Gorsuch — a constitutionalist, not a partisan, and very independent:

From his first days on the court, Judge Gorsuch was an independent thinker, never a party liner. I asked my research assistant to examine every case in which Gorsuch sat with a mix of Republican- and Democratic-appointed judges, and we reached divided conclusions. In the past five years, in almost one-third of those cases, Gorsuch voted with his liberal colleagues, not with the conservatives. That is the record of a moderate, fair-minded, nonpartisan jurist.

This is not just my opinion. Liberal and progressive law professors all over the country, not caught up in the politics of the day, have come to the same conclusion. No one agrees with all of Judge Gorsuch’s opinions. I certainly don’t. But they are without exception thoughtful, moderate, and independent.

Gorsuch is undoubtedly conservative, but he has not the slightest touch of the extreme. Those who describe him as “outside of the mainstream” would have to say the same of any Republican appointee. He is about as “far right” as Elena Kagan is “far left” (though, to be fair, some Republicans said that about her, with as little basis).

The best description of Gorsuch is that he is a constitutionalist rather than a partisan. In the years ahead of us, when a set of issues will arise that the country has never seen before, this is exactly the kind of justice Americans of all political stripes should hope for.