WASHINGTON — Both Massachusetts senators are joining in the Democrats’ dare to the GOP: if Republicans want to confirm Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, they will need to find eight Democratic votes or change Senate rules and eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations.
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey told the Globe they support the Democratic efforts to filibuster the nomination of Gorusch, requiring him to meet the 60-vote threshold.
If Democrats hold firm on that stance, as Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged they will, it will push Majority Leader Mitch McConnell toward the brink of a rule change that would be so ground-shifting in Senate traditions that it is called the “nuclear option.’’
It is one more sign of the decline in consensus-building that for a century has been part of Senate tradition, as the chamber’s rules have required at least 60 votes to cut off debate, called cloture, since 1917.
Fresh in Democrats’ mind is Republicans’ total refusal last year to consider President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the high court. Changing the Senate rules for Gorsuch and pushing him through with a simple majority may wind up as the next step in that aggressive Republican strategy.
Warren and Markey almost immediately expressed their opposition this week to Gorsuch, whom President Trump nominated Tuesday night for the slot. Both senators called Gorsuch excessively conservative and deferential to big business and said opposing him is worth risking the nuclear option.
“Should Mitch McConnell be able to bully Democrats into going along with a judge who is not a consensus nominee? No,” Warren said.
She added, “They’re threatening. They’re bullying and the only thing we can do is stand up.”
A filibuster of Gorsuch would be one of the few times in almost 50 years that the Senate minority tried to blockade a Supreme Court nominee. In 2006, Democrats tried to derail the nomination of Justice Samuel Alito, but failed when only 25 senators voted to support a filibuster.
The Globe talked to half a dozen Democratic senators Wednesday and all of them supported the filibuster, saying a Supreme Court nominee should get bipartisan approval. Markey said it would be a mistake for the Republicans to use the nuclear option.
“It would fundamentally change the Senate,” he said. “It would change the way we have done business historically and I would urge the Republican leaders not to exercise that nuclear option.”
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont also pushed back against the nuclear option, saying a Supreme Court nomination is too important to be confirmed on party lines.
“A Supreme Court justice appointment is so important that you want bipartisan support and I think the American people will not look kindly if the Republicans repeal that longstanding threshold and just try to push a nomination through on a majority vote,” he said.
He added,“We feel strongly that it’s our responsibility to give Gorsuch the closest possible scrutiny of any Supreme Court nominee in history. The Republicans stole a seat from the Democrats on the Supreme Court in 2016. It’s our responsibility to ensure that whoever does take that seat is well within the mainstream of American judicial history. That’s something that should be able to be accomplished while simultaneously not having the Republican leadership detonate the nuclear option.”
Trump endorsed the nuclear option Wednesday.
“If we end up with that gridlock, I would say, ‘If you can, Mitch, go nuclear,” he said. “Because that would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was put up to that neglect. I would say it’s up to Mitch, but I would say, ‘Go for it.’”
Tyler Pager can be reached at email@example.com.