Some Democrats in the Senate have committed to blocking President Donald Trump's Supreme Court pick before the nominee has even been announced.
After Trump tweeted that he would announce his Supreme Court pick on Tuesday evening, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told reporters Monday morning that he plans to filibuster any nominee pick who is not Merrick Garland, according to Politico. Garland was former President Barack Obama's pick to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the passing of Antonin Scalia.
"This is a stolen seat. This is the first time a Senate majority has stolen a seat,” Merkley claimed. “We will use every lever in our power to stop this.”
"I will definitely object to a simple majority," Merkley said, referring to the vote. Any senator can object to the simple majority vote and require a supermajority, which would mean Trump's pick will need 60 votes to clear the Senate. There are currently 52 Republicans in the Senate, so eight Democrats would need to join Republicans to vote for cloture in order to clear the Senate floor.
Merkley also claimed that the majority of his Democratic colleagues would also vote against Trump's pick, whoever it may be. "A very large number of my colleagues will be opposed," he said. He did not specifically name any other senators who would join him in opposition, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told CNN host Jake Tapper earlier this month that the party was prepared to fight "tooth-and-nail" against any pick they didn't feel was bipartisan or mainstream.
"If the nominee is not bipartisan and mainstream we absolutely will keep the seat open," Schumer said. "I'm hopeful that maybe President Trump will nominate someone that will get bipartisan support — but, yes, we'll fight it tooth-and-nail as long as we have to."
Republican leaders challenged Merkley's decision, indicating it was hypocritical of him to use the filibuster since he was a staunch advocate of eliminating filibusters in the past.
"When Democrats were in the majority, Sen. Merkley wanted to end filibusters. But I guess he only meant when Democrats are in the majority and in control of the White House," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's spokesman Don Stewart.
Under the precedent set by Senate Democrats, GOP leadership could utilize the so-called "nuclear option" and change the rules of the Senate with a bare majority in order to eliminate the filibuster if they don't have enough votes to confirm the pick. However, there are reports that McConnell has indicated that he does not plan to go that route. According to The Hill and other publications, McConnell is reported to have said, "It takes 67 votes to change the rules in the Senate. We saw one rather conspicuous exception to that a few years ago but no we don’t have any current plans on the rules," McConnell said.
“We’re going to get this nominee confirmed. I hope he or she will be confirmed based upon the completely outstanding credentials that we’re going to see,” he told Politico. Other commenters have noted that it at least possible that McConnell's remarks were either mischaracterized or taken out of context, and that he intended to merely rule out "nuking" the filibuster for legislation, and not for judicial appointments. McConnell's office did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on this point. We will update this piece if such clarification is provided.
Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday that he wants McConnell to use the nuclear option to confirm his pick if necessary. When asked about Trump's comments, McConnell responded, "Senate rules are a matter for the Senate and a lot of other people have opinions."