WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee ended two days of questioning U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch with Democrats expressing frustration over his lack of candor and Republicans exhibiting confidence that he will assume the seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia more than 13 months ago.
Republicans, who maintain a four-seat majority in the upper chamber, also vowed to push ahead with Gorsuch’s confirmation despite calls from Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, and others to delay consideration.
Democrats want to postpone the vote as a result of revelations that the FBI is investigating Russian interference in the presidential campaign that resulted in the election of Donald Trump, the man who nominated Gorsuch to fill the seat. Schumer said proceeding while federal law enforcement authorities are moving ahead with a probe could prove “unseemly” while “this big gray cloud of an FBI investigation hangs over the presidency.”
But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chairman, called the request “ridiculous.”
“There is a process for determining whether or not the president should be in office, but as long as he’s in office, he can exercise his constitutional powers, and that’s what’s being done here,” Grassley said.
Gorsuch, 49, who currently serves on the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, has the votes to get the nomination out of committee. He still may not have the 60 votes necessary on the Senate floor, given that under current rules Democrats may choose to filibuster.
Schumer said Democrats will require that Gorsuch attract 60 votes for approval and that nary a caucus member has indicated they intend to vote for the nominee – although Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has hinted at the possibility. Regardless, should a standoff occur, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, indicated he may change Senate rules and prohibit a filibuster of the nomination. Rules changes require only a majority vote.
“If Judge Gorsuch can’t achieve 60 votes in the Senate, could any judge appointed by a Republican president be approved with 60 or more votes in the Senate?” McConnell asked.
Little new ground was plowed during the second round of questioning, with Gorsuch consistently refusing to answer questions regarding issues that may wind up before the Supreme Court.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), for example, attempted to quiz Gorsuch about what is referred to as the emoluments clause in the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits a president from accepting gifts from foreign agents without specific approval of Congress. The issue has been raised because Trump, a billionaire businessman, has refused to forfeit his business interests while in office and could benefit from deals involving foreign agents.
It was recently revealed, for instance, that a woman from China with strong ties to the Beijing government recently purchased a condominium in a Trump-owned building in New York City for $16 million – more than what some analysts believe the property is worth.
Gorsuch demurred, citing ongoing litigation, telling Leahy, the former committee chairman, “I have to be very careful about expressing any views.”
Supreme Court nominees have been reluctant in recent years to divulge much about their judicial philosophy but Democrats on the panel asserted that Gorsuch has taken what is known as the Ginsburg standard – after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – to a new level.
“You have been very much able to avoid any specificity like no one I have ever seen before,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member, told Gorsuch at one point.
Meanwhile, Republicans were taking what appeared to be a home run trot, refusing to press Gorsuch on any specific issue and congratulating him prematurely on his successful nomination.
“I’ve seen an awful lot of great people in the law come before this committee and I haven’t seen anybody any better than you,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told Gorsuch.
Asked today at the White House if any Democrat will support Gorsuch, press secretary Sean Spicer replied, “I hope and believe so.”
“I think that there have been several that have been spoken very positively. I think he’s been extremely impressive throughout this confirmation process, and you’ve heard members both in the Senate, on the committee, and then a lot of outside voices comment on how well he’s done, how qualified he is,” Spicer said. “And I think it’s tough for anybody to say that he’s not immensely qualified for this position.”