Once Upon a Time, Merkley Supported Nuclear Option Even if Republicans Were in Charge

Oregon senator Jeff Merkley, who spoke on the Senate floor for 15 hours Tuesday night and Wednesday morning in opposition to the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, said in an interview three years ago that he supported eliminating the 60-vote procedural threshold for High Court nominees regardless of which party controlled Congress and the White House. He supports a full filibuster of Gorsuch, expected to come Thursday.

Merkley made his initial comments a couple of weeks after Republicans captured the upper chamber in the 2014 midterm elections, a result that handed the GOP the reins just a year after Democrats changed Senate rules to lower the vote requirement to end debate on lower court nominees from 60 to 51. (The numbers assume the participation of all 100 senators.)

The Huffington Post had the story:

The new rules have made it easier for the Democratic-controlled Senate to approve most of President Barack Obama’s nominees, since they need just a majority of the Senate to move forward, as opposed to the 60 votes previously required to clear a procedural hurdle. Now, however, Republicans have taken control of the Senate. If the GOP holds the upper chamber and retakes the White House in 2016, Democrats won’t have the 60-vote filibuster available to block controversial nominees.

“It should be a simple majority,” Merkley insisted in an interview with the Huffington Post, adding that he would stand firm even if Republicans keep the Senate and gain control of the presidency two years from now. “Not long ago, Supreme Court justices who were highly controversial—it was a simple majority. ‘Advice and consent’ was never envisioned as a check that involved a minority of the Senate being able to block a presidential [nomination].”

In January of this year, before Trump announced Gorsuch as his choice, Merkley was quoted atop a Politico piece saying he would help lead a Senate blockade of any realistic Supreme Court appointment. “With Trump prepared to announce his nominee on Tuesday evening, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said in an interview on Monday morning that he will filibuster any pick that is not Merrick Garland and that the vast majority of his caucus will oppose Trump’s nomination,” Politico wrote. Merkley called the seat to replace Justice Antonin Scalia “stolen” because of the Garland saga in the final year of Obama’s presidency.

Merkley is the starkest example of many Senate Democrats who at least indicated an openness to allowing Gorsuch’s nomination to proceed to an up-or-down vote before the full chamber. Said New Hampshire senator Jeanne Shaheen in February, “I haven’t heard any Democrat say we don’t think that Judge Gorsuch should get a hearing or that he should get an up-or-down vote.” Shaheen expressed her support Wednesday for using the 60-vote procedural tactic to stop Gorsuch’s confirmation from advancing, based on the Colorado judge’s “views.”

Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein and former Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine are two other senators who have recalibrated their High Court standards to justify impeding Gorsuch’s confirmation. Missouri senator Claire McCaskill was concerned stopping the judge with just 41 votes would backfire, before ultimately deciding to participate in the strategy. Several other Senate Democrats said they wanted a hearing and a vote—what kind of vote perhaps depending on the interpretation—but settled on blocking Gorsuch.

This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard


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