WASHINGTON, D.C. – The so-called “nuclear option” in the U.S. Senate is providing conflict for many senators, but none more so than Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado.
This week, the Senate plans to vote on Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and Senate Republicans have threatened to take away the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees if Democrats filibuster Gorsuch.
Bennet’s conflict is less about Gorsuch than about the potential risks of not requiring 60 votes for a nominee in the future.
In a statement Bennet said, “Changing the Senate rules now will only further politicize the Supreme Court and prevent the Senate from blocking more extreme judges in the future.”
If the Senate Republicans, the majority party, change the rules, then Supreme Court nominees would require only 51 votes to be confirmed, and the filibuster would not be allowed on those nominations. That means that the majority party can confirm whomever they want, without a single vote from the minority party.
Bennet’s concern is that the next few Supreme Court justices who would be replaced would likely be the more liberal members of the court.
According to an aide, Bennet is trying to convince others to look toward potential future justices. Bennet’s opposition to the filibuster is because of his apprehension about the trend of partisanship in the Senate and politicization of the courts and the judiciary.
“Using the filibuster and nuclear option at this moment takes us in the wrong direction,” Bennet said in a statement.
Over the past few weeks, Bennet has tried, without success, to convince other members of the Senate to avoid a filibuster. Now that 41 Senate Democrats have committed to filibustering Gorsuch, Bennet is working to avoid the “nuclear option.”
Bennet “wants to maintain the tools (senators) have right now,” according to an aide.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina said, “The Senate traditions are going to change over this man (Gorsuch), based on the times we live in.”
Senate Republicans believe this is their only option to get a nominee who they believe is a consensus pick confirmed.
“There isn’t any justice that a Republican would put forth that they would support,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Although it’s likely that other senators besides Bennet want to avoid the “nuclear option,” Graham confirmed that there is no deal Senate Democrats could make to avert the option besides giving up on their planned filibuster.
Some Senate Republicans, such as Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, believe that the current 60-vote threshold is artificial and unnecessary, but others believe that the conflict is an example of the larger issue of partisanship in the Senate.
“It’s a reflection on a brokenness in the U.S. Senate, not any problem with Gorsuch,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska.
Bennet hasn’t decided whether or not he will vote to confirm Gorsuch, although his office has received 10 times the amount of calls opposing Gorsuch as those supporting him. Bennet has received a greater than usual amount of feedback because Gorsuch is from Colorado.
According to an aide, if the “nuclear option” is used, that will factor into whether or not Bennet votes to confirm Gorsuch.
Shira Stein is a reporting intern for the Herald in Washington, D.C., and a student at American University. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @stein_shira.