Mitch McConnell Outplays Democrats- Again by Luke Perry
President Trump was more of a bystander than a combatant in the political battle to confirm Neil Gorsuch. To his credit, Trump selected someone sufficiently conservative and eloquent to replace Justice Scalia. As importantly, Gorsuch demonstrated he has no past scandal or conflicts of interest unlike several of Trump’s other prominent appointees.
During his confirmation hearings Gorsuch repeatedly stated that “no man is above the law,” referring to the prospect of potentially ruling against the president that nominated him. Gorsuch also characterized Trump’s personal attacks on federal judges as “disheartening” and “demoralizing” in private meetings with U.S. Senators, reflecting widespread, bipartisan apprehension toward this unusual behavior.
The biggest concern for Democrats is that Gorsuch will become the most conservative Justice on the court. And he may. Previous rulings can reflect one’s approach to the bench, though the careers of Justices don’t always fit with the past or wishes of the president who nominated him or her.
Regardless, the “too far out of the mainstream” argument of Chuck Schumer and other Democrats doesn’t resonate beyond elite circles. Most Americans probably have never heard of The Federalist Society, nor do they care that Donald Trump campaigned on entrusting them with making a list of potential nominees and helping determine the final choice.
Being perceived as too ideological by the opposition party has no political traction in a deeply polarized two party system responsible for shepherding confirmation. Moreover, the public at large views Gorsuch a bit more favorably than other recent nominees; more support for confirmation than not, with most people unsure.
The Democrats threw whatever they could at Gorsuch, but he is not the main problem, nor is Donald Trump. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is.
McConnell outplayed the Democrats in policy, including the Affordable Care Act (Republicans actively shaped the bill, refused to vote on it, then campaigned against it for years) and immigration reform (President Obama deported more people than other president inaccurately thinking the GOP would then agree to a path to citizenship).
McConnell has now outplayed the Democrats in Supreme Court appointments. The gamble of refusing to hold a hearing for President Obama's nominee has paid off and Democrats are furious. This is understandable, but there is nothing they can do while the Republicans control the chamber and the rules.
Some Senators are genuinely concerned about the end of the filibuster, but many more care about political opportunism. Elections have consequences and the Republicans retained the Senate and won the White House. The result is that President Trump’s best moment thus far comes with a “nuclear” cloud, but this time, he’s not to blame.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.