It’s a crucial week for the Republicans because it’s not actually about Neil Gorsuch, nor even about the Supreme Court, and the fate of the Trump presidency hangs in the balance.
It’s nothing short of war now, and neither side can give quarter. That sound of distant bugles is the cry to kill or be killed. It’s not supposed to work this way, but it does.
Chuck Schumer, the leader who leads as if his minority is the majority, has set out to destroy the Gorsuch nomination by any means necessary. He thinks — and he’s correct — that if Neil Gorsuch goes down every replacement nominee put up by Donald Trump will go down, too.
Mitch McConnell, the leader of the actual majority, understands this, and says Mr. Gorsuch will be confirmed, one way or the other. “The other,” of course, is the so-called nuclear option, the changing of the Senate rules to enable the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee by a simple majority vote, rather than by the 60-vote majority required under present rules. The 52 Republicans in the Senate can change the rule with 51 votes.
Mr. Schumer’s game requires a steady hand and a resolute determination to do the deed no matter how dirty it has to be. Two of his senators defected Thursday, when Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said they would vote to confirm the nominee. Their defections were not surprising, but now the Republicans are searching for only six, not eight, Democrats.
If Mr. Schumer prevents the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, who is by all accounts “the perfect nominee,” he will be a permanent thorn in the president’s side, the demoralized Republicans will be playing a desperate game of catch-up for the next four years, and Mr. Schumer will be the giant instead of aspiring giant-killer.
The day he nominated Mr. Gorsuch has been Donald Trump’s best day in the White House so far. It’s the source of immense frustration to the Democrats, who were deep in a monumental pout that seemed to have no end. Not only did Mr. Gorsuch look like he might actually be the justice like Antonin Scalia, a defender of the Constitution, respectful of precedent, but he seemed to be a nominee with no fatal flaws. There was no legitimate reason for Democrats to oppose him except for his devotion to the Constitution and the law.
Chuck Schumer and his friends have to invent reasons with artful subterfuge, made to look like serious and legitimate objections. Distortion is the name of the game.
The head of Planned Parenthood, an organization discredited in the public eye for having been caught selling the body parts of aborted babies, was recruited to recite one of three objections in the assault on the legal qualifications of Judge Gorsuch. Cecile Richards says she knows what goes on in the Gorsuch mind, and she discovered that “he believes that actually bosses should be able to decide whether or not women should be able to get birth control coverage.”
Mzz Richards, obviously a woman of some intelligence, knows that Judge Gorsuch, in his capacity as a judge of the 10th U.S. Court of Appeals (in Denver), wrote no such thing. He ruled (with one Democratic judge joining him) that under the religious-freedom law enacted by Congress proprietors are entitled to refrain from providing birth-control devices if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.
Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota told a tale of how Judge Gorsuch had made company with a truck line that fired a driver who disobeyed his supervisors to use his truck to escape freezing conditions. Several senators described Mr. Gorsuch as an abuser of an autistic child because he ruled against a family that sought help beyond what local schools could provide. In both cases Mr. Gorsuch applied precedents and the law, as he was legally bound to do. Sen. Kamala Harris, a lawyer and a former attorney general of California, accused Mr. Gorsuch of resorting to “legalisms.” Democrats seem puzzled; what does the law, so full of “legalisms, have to do with anything?
Chuck Schumer promised to give the campaign to stop Neil Gorsuch his best shot, and this is the only shot he could deliver. Going nuclear rightly offends conservatives who respect tradition, rules and precedent, but tradition is not a suicide pact. This is an opportunity to stand up not just for Mr. Gorsuch, but for the law. The Constitution demands every man in the Senate to do his duty. The ladies, too.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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