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Politics This Week: Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court Nomination


President Donald Trump is facing some math problems. He needs to add up enough votes in the House to pass bills on health care and the budget. But he's been fighting with many of the members he needs to support him. Now, in the Senate, the president does have a majority to approve his Supreme Court nominee this week. But a majority is not enough. And the question is whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will change the calculus of the Senate to prevent Democrats from blocking Judge Neil Gorsuch. Here's McConnell speaking on Fox News Sunday.


MITCH MCCONNELL: Judge Gorsuch is going to be confirmed. The way in which that occurs is in the hands of the Democratic minority. And I think during the course of the week, we'll find out exactly how this will end. But it will end with his confirmation.

GREENE: And let's talk about all this with NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro, who's on the line. Domenico, good morning.


GREENE: So let's start with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the court. Some are saying there could be a nuclear showdown this week. McConnell's saying it's in the hands of the Democrats. How does this all work?

MONTANARO: Yeah. And they keep calling this nuclear because they're going to probably move toward eliminating the requirement to need 60 votes to advance a nominee for the Supreme Court if Democrats - if not enough Democrats get on board to support Gorsuch. And right now, it does not look like that's going to happen. Just three Democrats have come forward. And McConnell has been dangling this "nuclear," quote, unquote, "threat."

And it really could be the week, if in 50 years from now we look back and see that the court has fundamentally changed, that this is the week where it did. Not only did the Senate fundamentally change and become more like the House, where you'd only need a majority rules instead of needing 60 votes. But then the kinds of nominees that you could have is the real risk potentially to the court at some point.

GREENE: Because you have this rule. There's a filibuster. The Democrats could begin a filibuster. Republicans would need 60 votes to end it. And that's always sort of been the way of the Senate to prevent, you know, really radical nominees or what some would view as radical nominees from being able to come through.

MONTANARO: Right. That's the whole thing. I mean, this could mean more partisan picks. This started down that path in 2013, when Democratic now former majority leader Harry Reid from Nevada changed this because Barack Obama couldn't get his judiciary nominees through because the Republicans had used the filibuster so often that he couldn't get those picks through. If you think about this, a pick like Betsy DeVos, where so many Democrats were enraged by her getting - becoming education secretary...


MONTANARO: ...She probably never would have gotten through if this rule were not eliminated.

GREENE: Well, it seems like everyone agrees this is not a good thing if this happens this week. But no one is willing to back down. We heard Mitch McConnell. This is his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, on NBC's "Meet The Press."


CHUCK SCHUMER: Our Republican friends are acting like, you know, they're a cat on the top of a tree and they have to jump off with all the damage that entails. Come back off the tree. Sit down, and work with us. And we will produce a mainstream nominee.

GREENE: I'm sure Republicans love being called a cat on a tree. So Schumer is saying that just come down from the tree; let's talk about a mainstream nominee. But quietly in the legal community, even people who are concerned about more conservative judges say that Gorsuch is qualified. But why are Democrats so dug in here?

MONTANARO: You know, he obviously has sterling legal credentials, but he's also very conservative. But you also have this, quote, "resist movement" on the Democratic side. You have a progressive base that is amped up against any kind of Donald Trump policy. And they want to be able to try to do whatever they can to try to stop Gorsuch's nomination. But this has less to do with Neil Gorsuch himself and more to do with Merrick Garland, you might remember, Barack Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court...


MONTANARO: ...Who never even got a hearing, David.

GREENE: So it's the Democrats still angry about that?

MONTANARO: Absolutely.

GREENE: President Trump tweeting yesterday talking about love and strength in the Republican Party and it being underestimated. You know, he went through this debacle with health care. There were Republicans who stood up to him. One of them cheering on the House members who stood up to Donald Trump was Senator Rand Paul, who went golfing with the president yesterday. And the White House playing up that they actually talked about health care. Can you have substantive conversations over a golf game?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, it's something that they actually teach in business schools, so you sure can.

GREENE: (Laughter).

MONTANARO: I don't know what kind of golf game either Trump or Rand Paul have, so maybe they do have a lot to talk about.

GREENE: Right.

MONTANARO: But really at this point, you know, this is about Trump trying to break the Freedom Caucus, trying to peel off the kinds of people who might be influential with them, trying this little bit of a charm game with Rand Paul and maybe he could have some influence with them. But right now, Republicans are still in this box. If the Freedom Caucus doesn't go along with Paul Ryan's agenda, then they need Democrats. And if Paul Ryan is saying we're not going to work with Democrats, then you can't get anything done.

GREENE: Is the president's agenda in trouble?

MONTANARO: I mean, the president's legislative agenda is in a whole heap of trouble. Right now he's stalled and sputtering in this presidency. There's nothing that's getting done. He's resorting to executive orders and executive action, something that usually a president only does when they can't get stuff through legislatively. That is not enough. You know, President Obama only resorted to doing immigration executive orders when it was clear immigration reform, for example, wasn't going to pass the House.

GREENE: So what should we look for in terms of signs that President Trump might be getting his agenda back on track?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, obviously if you start to see some of these Freedom Caucus members start to peel off and they say they're going to work with him on tax reform and specific examples. But tax reform is going to be even more difficult. And this week, we know that Trump is going to be focusing on foreign policy. He's going to be talking with various foreign leaders who are coming to the U.S., including President Xi of China at the end of the week.

So, you know, there are two things that presidents can often impact more directly than legislation. That's foreign policy and judges. We know this week he'll probably get a Supreme Court nominee through. We'll see if - because his domestic legislative agenda has been stalled, if he moves more toward foreign affairs.

GREENE: OK. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro, thanks as always.

MONTANARO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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