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Senate debates Gorsuch, heading into possible nuclear face-off

April 5, 2017 at 6:20 PM EDT
The U.S. Senate spent all night and all day debating Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and the so-called "nuclear option," which would change long-standing rules so that confirmation requires only a majority vote. Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union and Karine Jean-Pierre of MoveOn.org join Judy Woodruff to discuss Gorsuch, continuing health care negotiations and more.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. Senate spent all night and day today debating the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to be the next associate justice of the Supreme Court.

Lawmakers took turns trading barbs and discussing the so-called nuclear option, which could change longstanding Senate rules, so that confirmation requires only a majority vote, instead of the usual 60.

SEN. BEN CARDIN, D-Md.: Judge Gorsuch, to me, is not mainstream. He will put corporate interests above individual interests.

So, for all those reasons, it seems appropriate to me that this is why we have a 60-vote threshold, to make sure we don’t — that we don’t take extreme nominees and allow them to be confirmed by a partisan vote.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas: Every excuse they have come up with to engage in this unprecedented filibuster is completely without merit.

What they’re really upset about is what happened on November the 8th. And I don’t believe, if they will — if won’t confirm Judge Gorsuch, they will never vote to confirm any nominee of this president, period.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY, D-Wash.: Invoking the nuclear option is a dangerous path to go down.

Mr. President, I have been in the majority, I have been in the minority, and, either way, I believe, when it comes to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, the Senate must adhere to a higher standard and the 60-vote threshold.

If you can’t get that many votes for a Supreme Court nominee, you don’t need to change the rules. You need to change the nominee.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: I’m left with no choice. I will vote to change the rules and allow Judge Gorsuch to be confirmed by a simple majority.

I will do so with great reluctance, not because I have any doubts that Judge Gorsuch will be an excellent justice, but because of the further and perhaps irreparable damage that it will do the United States Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more now on the continuing fight over the Supreme Court nominee, the negotiations between the White House and Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare, and President Trump’s effort to roll back parts of the Obama legacy, we turn to Matt Schlapp. He’s chairman of the American Conservative Union.

We had hoped to have Karine Jean-Pierre — she’s a senior adviser for MoveOn.org — join us as well, but she is stuck in traffic here in Washington. She may join us in progress.

But, meantime, Matt, you and I are going to have this conversation.

So, what do you make of the determination now of Democrats…

MATT SCHLAPP, Former White House Director of Political Affairs: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … that there are just — there are going to be at least three of them who vote for Neil Gorsuch, but not enough to give him the 60 that he would need.

MATT SCHLAPP: You know, what I’m struck with — obviously, I’m a partisan. I’m a Republican.

But what I’m struck with is that Neil Gorsuch really passed all the gates. He seemed very steady during his hearings, really didn’t have a misanswer throughout all of that process, has a stellar record.

But it just shows you, in our hyperpartisan age, it’s very hard anymore to get these crossover votes for Supreme Court nominees especially, because the court has kind of inserted itself in every major question in society. And they are a flash point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Of course, the Democrats would say, well, he didn’t answer as many questions as we would have liked.

MATT SCHLAPP: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But I …

MATT SCHLAPP: But they all admitted that he did a good job. They would have liked him to step in something, and he really did avoid that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there anything else either the White House, President Trump, or Judge Gorsuch could have done, do you think, to get Democrats to 60? Or do you think this was cooked coming in because of what happened last year?

MATT SCHLAPP: I think — yes, I think Democrats are very upset at the treatment of Merrick Garland. They thought he deserved to have a vote, a hearing and a vote.

And, of course, Republicans saw this Supreme Court opening, this kind of really important swing pick just too close to the election, and they wanted to wait.

But I do think Republicans could cut a deal. The president could cut some kind of a deal to get enough Democrats to come over.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean?

MATT SCHLAPP: Well, he would have to cut some deals on future Supreme Court picks, maybe watering down the types of picks he would like to make.

And I think, for Republicans, that’s just anathema. They think that Neil Gorsuch deserves an up-or-down vote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the Democrats would, in essence, take his word that he was going to follow up with a more moderate choice?

MATT SCHLAPP: Yes, yes, that’s right.

And I think for — look, for Republicans and for conservatives, that’s a bridge too far. They believe they won this election. They have picked a nominee who has gotten huge majorities in the Senate previously, who’s well-qualified by the American Bar Association.

So, they really felt like they put a nominee up that deserves an up-or-down vote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, let’s turn to health care.

We keep hearing, we keep seeing that the White House s trying to get something resurrected with House Republicans that will effectively repeal and replace Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act.

MATT SCHLAPP: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But they’re struggling.

MATT SCHLAPP: They are.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we saw, just this afternoon, Speaker Ryan was seen going into the White House again.

MATT SCHLAPP: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where does that stand? And what do you see the prospects as?

MATT SCHLAPP: Well, I have had conversations with the speaker and with the White House, and they are trying very hard to get to a bill.

You know, just like in every political party, we have our hard-core conservatives, and we have our more moderate members that come from more swing districts. And they’re trying to strike a balance to get to the 218. And they’re simply not there.

I think where they want to go on the bill is to allow more state opt-outs of the Obama mandates, and they’re trying to figure out if they can get to that 218.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Karine Jean-Pierre has joined us.

I’m so sorry you were stuck in Washington traffic.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MoveOn.org: That’s OK.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s a whole different subject. We’re not going to talk about that right now. Next time.

But, Karine, on this question of the Republicans still trying really hard to come up with something where they can get enough votes to repeal and replace Obamacare, is this something that Democrats are prepared to work with the White House in any way?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: No.

The only way that would happen is Republicans said, hey, you know what? We know Obamacare is a place to start, and there are some fixes. Both sides have said that Obamacare needs some fixes. If they were to come to Democrats and say let’s fix Obamacare.

But if it’s repeal and replace, I don’t see that happening. And the thing, too, you would think that Republicans would have learned from their mistake, which was they tried to jam down this Trumpcare in 17 days.

And now to come back and say, hey, you know, we’re going to introduce something that is not on paper and, by the end of the week, pass it or vote on it, which we know that’s no longer going to happen, that’s also — they haven’t learned their lesson.

Obama took 13 months to push ACA in a public way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: And it was very difficult for him to do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Any way to make this work with Democratic support?

MATT SCHLAPP: I think you make very fair points.

I don’t think the Democrats are going to solve the Republicans’ problem. I think this is a problem that Republicans need to solve.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking — I was going to say, speaking of rolling back Obamacare, there are a number of other things, to both of you, that this president is saying, is signaling and moving on to roll back, from the environment, labor rules …

MATT SCHLAPP: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … Internet privacy. You go down the list. There are several, it seems, that emerge every single day.

Matt Schlapp, is this designed — we know the president does believe in doing this, but is this designed to shore up the base? Is it designed to win over people in the middle? I mean, how do you see the political calculus?

MATT SCHLAPP: You know, I looked over this list, executive orders and congressional review acts.

And I think, by and large, there are two themes of the Trump presidency, economic growth and security. And I think most of these issues involve that.

I think Donald Trump understands, if the economy doesn’t get growing and doesn’t — and we don’t start adding jobs, and people don’t start feeling better about their take-home pay and their economic situation, his political standing will be harmed by that.

And I think they want to take everything they can off the ability of businesspeople, entrepreneurs to invest and grow their companies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we have seen, Karine, in the last weeks that his approval rating in so many of the national polls has been sliding. In some, it’s down in the 30s.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Who knows, you know, how long-lasting that is.

But how do you see this? Is this something — if he’s able to do what Matt says, can he win support?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: But the problem is, Judy, is he’s rolling back issues, policies that are actually very popular.

And we have to remember Donald Trump didn’t win with the popular — the popular vote. He doesn’t have a mandate. Only 26 percent, 27 percent of eligible voters actually voted for Donald Trump.

And it’s troubling to see what he’s doing. And there are people on your side who are very concerned by some of the rollbacks that he’s doing, especially when it comes to privacy.

And so it’s certainly — it’s certainly a problem that we should be concerned about. And so I just don’t see how this is going to be popular. It certainly doesn’t show that he’s a president for everyone. It’s just him doubling down, tripling down on his base.

MATT SCHLAPP: Can I simply say, on these congressional review acts, of which we have only seen one in our history, and to see over a dozen come to the president’s desk, there’s just a lot of action here.

And I think, for him politically, one of the downsides for him is, there’s so much action, but also one of the upsides is, is that we’re not focusing on one because there are so many.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But also, for some of these, there may be folks who like them, but there are also folks who don’t like them.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: That’s right.

MATT SCHLAPP: Sure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And he stirs …

MATT SCHLAPP: All that matters for President Trump is, he’s got to get that economy humming. If he doesn’t, you know, there’s consequences.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: The funny thing is, his favorite poll, Rasmussen, even shows him down by 16 points at 43.

MATT SCHLAPP: I don’t think it’s his favorite poll.

(LAUGHTER)

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Well, that’s the one he keeps focusing on. So, there’s a problem there. His numbers are softening.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we’re glad the infrastructure helped get you here today, Karine Jean-Pierre.

(LAUGHTER)

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much, Judy. And I’m so sorry about that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s all right.

Matt Schlapp.

Thank you both.

MATT SCHLAPP: You know, if we drain the swamp, we will have less traffic.

(LAUGHTER)

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Is that right? That’s the problem.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.

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