Why the Senate is gearing up for an ugly fight over Neil Gorsuch


JOHN YANG: But, first, for more on Jared Kushner's role in the White House, the fight over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and the week ahead for President Trump, it's time for Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

So, we just heard a little discussion about the role that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are playing in the West Wing.

What do you make of this, of this sort of increased role for this very young couple?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Well, and Jared Kushner especially has sort of an amorphous and growing portfolio.

He's liaising with the Mexican government. He's preparing for the visit from President Xi from China. He's off in Iraq. And he's supposed to lead this task force, SWAT team to potentially completely reshape the federal government and find deficiencies.

That's a lot and it's a unique role. But, you know, unlike other advisers who are jockeying for a position in this White House, it's hard to fire your son-in-law.

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Right. It would be a little awkward. He probably still could do that.

But, you know, every president does get to come in with someone or multiple people who are the closest to them who they trust to only be looking out for them. This is a vicious town. A lot of knives are out. You need someone that always has your back.

President Obama had Valerie Jarrett, who came from Chicago. She was for him. She stayed with him throughout the entire course of his presidency. She didn't have a portfolio quite as big as his, but it was a pretty diverse portfolio. And you would see her show up in places that were important to the president, always looking out for the president's interests.

The question in my mind is not so much what are they doing, but can they do something, right? Are we going to see success or any change or anything come out of this big portfolio? And that's where I would be spending a lot more time focusing, not so much the fact that he went to Iraq, but is there going to be a change in the way that the administration deals with Iraq?

Is there going to be a way that is going to be different about what happens with China or these other measures of this portfolio? That is much more significant than the fact that he's actually sitting there.

TAMARA KEITH: And he was invited by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which gives an indication that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff might feel that this is a good way to get a message to the president, that, if he can deliver information to a person who has the president's ear, that is a way of getting into that inner circle.


JOHN YANG: And having him go out there, he is essentially serving as the president's eyes and ears.

AMY WALTER: That's right.

Remember, the Joint Chiefs gets to sit with Jared Kushner, the person the Times Square closest to the president, for 16 straight hours. That's a lot of time to do some lobbying.

JOHN YANG: So, now the — Neil Gorsuch cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee, but we have really set the stage for this fight over filibusters, over how many votes it takes to get a Supreme Court nominee.

How ugly is this going to get, Tam?

TAMARA KEITH: The Senate is already on a path to the nuclear option. They started on that path when Harry Reid and the Democrats decided to do the nuclear option for other presidential appointees, other judicial nominations, up to, but not including the Supreme Court.

Now, they said they had to do that because of the observation of Mitch McConnell, who was then in the minority. So, we were headed here. This was a collision course. And we were going to get there eventually, whether it was this nominee or the next nominee.

AMY WALTER: Yes. And I would argue it has been a collision course that has been set even far before 2013, the hollowing out of moderates in Congress, the fact that there are no longer Southern Democrats, Northeastern Republicans, folks who are willing to cross party lines.

The whole reason you have the 60-vote threshold was really to build consensus. But there is no ability to build consensus. There is no reward you get as a politician now to crossing party lines, to being a bipartisan deal-maker.

In fact, it brings you two things, one, a likely primary challenge from your left or your right, and it ensures that you have a harder time raising money from the donors who are excited about the polarization and the partisanship.

And I totally agree we were headed here anyway. If it were not with Gorsuch, it would be if, in the next two years, we had another Supreme Court opening, we would have seen that fight there. So I think all bets are off.

JOHN YANG: Is this going to change the Senate, or is the Senate already changed?

AMY WALTER: I think this is where the Senate has been going.

I don't see this — look, the real change would be if we do see more and more opportunities for getting rid of the filibuster in traditional legislative business. And it feels as if we're headed there, too.

TAMARA KEITH: That it just started to snowball. There are a lot of institutionalists in the Senate, senators who are very sad about this.

But there was a tiny effort at a nuclear disarmament, and it really didn't go anywhere. And if you want to know what this can do, look at President Trump's Cabinet picks. This is the first president post-nuclear option to name his Cabinet.

And someone like Betsy DeVos simply wouldn't have been confirmed if there had been the filibuster. Somebody like a Scott Pruitt at the EPA wouldn't have been confirmed. Simply, there wouldn't have been 60 votes for those people.

But the president didn't have to find consensus candidates because he knew that he only needed 51 votes.

JOHN YANG: In the grand tradition of Friday night document dumps, we got the financial disclosure forms for the Trump administration. What did we find? What did we learn?

AMY WALTER: I don't know that we learned anything new.

We learned that there are some really wealthy people that are in this administration. You pointed out in your piece the connection of the Kushners with the Trump properties.

But I think for folks who already believe that there is too much of a connection between the Trump business and Trump administration, those came true in this.

But I think, at the end of the day, for Democrats and those who are opposed to Donald Trump, the idea that just because you have wealthy people in your administration is going to make people fear that those folks aren't going to look out for the interests of non-wealthy people isn't on mark.

I think what we have to wait and see is, what do their policies do for people who don't have all of this money? If indeed, at the end of the day, what we find is the policies that Trump are putting forward or passing only benefit a small section of America, those who are the wealthiest, then that argument will hold water.

If they pass middle-class tax cuts, if they do things to help lower-income Americans, it is going to be harder to make that argument.

TAMARA KEITH: And people who wanted to make the argument could point to the health care bill that cut taxes on the wealthy and would have cut Medicaid substantially.

AMY WALTER: That's right.

TAMARA KEITH: Had many people saying, wait, the president ran as a populist. What is this health care bill?

AMY WALTER: That's right.

JOHN YANG: But people earned a lot of money last year in the Trump administration. There were a lot of big paychecks. One aide got a free wedding dress from a reality TV show.

They are just sort of — I don't know that there's any grand policies things you can glean from these things. They're just sort of very interesting little nuggets about the people that he's chosen to be in the White House.

TAMARA KEITH: This is an administration like no other.

Now, what supporters of President Trump will say is that's what he ran for. That's what he said. He said, I'm a super rich guy.

Other rich people have run for president before, and they sort of ran away from their wealth or didn't flaunt it. He said, I'm a rich guy, I'm going to bring my rich friends, and we're going to change the government.

JOHN YANG: And we will see how they do.


JOHN YANG: Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thanks joining us, Politics Monday.

TAMARA KEITH: You're welcome.

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