As Gorsuch Comes to the Hill, Democrats Divided on a Plan

With small talk of his resume and home state of Colorado, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch began making the rounds on Capitol Hill Tuesday, as lawmakers prepared for battle over his confirmation to the nation’s highest court.

Gorsuch spent his day in a flurry of meetings with Republican senators –- including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. He ended his day with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, a conservative Democrat up for reelection in two years.

How exactly to proceed with Gorsuch’s nomination, has in many ways, become a microcosm of the larger debate Democrats are having about how best to move forward as a party. Several Democrats have promised to meet with Gorsuch and are urging their colleagues to hear him out. They believe the party should, at least, grant him hearings that Republicans denied President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland.

Others, however, argue that Democrats should take a page from Republicans' playbook and obstruct Trump and his party at every turn. In an interview with ABC News' Jonathan Karl, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, said he’ll oppose Gorsuch regardless of what emerges during the confirmation process.

“This nomination should never have occurred,” he said, citing Senate Republicans’ controversial blockade of the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat during the presidential election. “This seat has been stolen from another administration.”

Merkley is not alone. A handful of other senators from the progressive wing of the party have already vowed to oppose Gorsuch, and major Democratic fundraising groups, including MoveOn and NARAL, have launched online and social media campaigns against his nomination.

They argue Gorsuch’s previous opinion on the Hobby Lobby case is evidence that the Colorado judge is out of the mainstream. That case gained national attention and eventually went to the Supreme Court after Gorsuch sided with Christians who sought a religious exception to a part of the Affordable Care Act requiring health insurance to cover contraception.

Republicans have begun pressuring Democrats to take up Gorsuch’s nomination as soon as possible.

The Judicial Crisis Network will spend $10 million on a campaign to pressure vulnerable Democratic senators to support Gorsuch for the court. The group will sink $2 million into television and web ads, focusing first on Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota and Montana.

In an interview, Carrie Severino, the JCN’s chief counsel, said conservatives plan to hold Democrats up for reelection in 2018 accountable for their votes.

Republicans started working Senate Democrats on the Supreme Court vacancy before Trump even took office. Vice President Mike Pence has been meeting with Democrats one-on-one on Capitol Hill since November, taking their temperature on big-ticket items like Obamacare replacement legislation and Trump’s Supreme Court nominee -- and what it would take to get them on board, according to sources familiar with the meetings.

The looming battle over the Supreme Court seat mirrors the larger struggle between Trump and Republicans, and Democrats hoping to oppose the GOP agenda.

Today, after Democrats boycotted a committee vote, Republicans on the committee simply waived the rules, allowing the group to vote without Democrats present.

Should Democrats outright block Gorsuch now, it is possible Republicans move to change the rules for confirming a Supreme Court justice. Today, Trump advised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to explore that option too.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he was focused on fighting the fight in front of him. Like Merkley, he has said he will oppose Gorsuch’s nomination.

“We've had a tradition in this country for a number of decades that Supreme Court nominees should be mainstream. They should be able to attract 60 votes, a number of votes from both parties,” he said.

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