Chuck Schumer warns Republicans about changing Senate rules to confirm Neil Gorsuch

McCaskill, a Democrat up for re-election in a state Trump won by double digits, told reporters this week that she's still deciding how to vote on Neil Gorsuch, the federal appellate judge who Trump has tapped to fill the U.S. Supreme Court seat that became vacant when Justice Antonin Scalia died a year ago.

Senate Democrats, led by minority leader Chuck Schumer, have indicated their intent to filibuster Gorsuch's confirmation, which could be taken up as early as next week. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota - have firmly stated they will vote with Republicans to advance Gorsuch's nomination.

Schumer had tough words for his Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in an interview with The Associated Press, saying "the public will judge" whether changing the rule to ease Gorsuch in would be a good idea.

Johnstone said the concern over changes to the cloture rule require looking at the context of the situation, specifically Senate Republicans choosing not to even grant a hearing previous year to Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland, Barack Obama's nominee to the high court. If the Democrats decide to block the president from filling a Supreme Court vacancy with a candidate previously voted unanimously for a federal judgeship, the Democrats would be escalating the obstruction to seemingly record levels.

"I don't talk about private discussions", Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said when asked about the talks.

Heitkamp says she expects Gorsuch to follow through on his promise of an independent judiciary that "acts as a proper check and balance on the other two branches of government". Republicans as well have shown reluctance about using it, but they feel it's their only way to get Gorsuch confirmed, given the Democratic filibuster. In order to break the Senate's planned filibuster, eight Democratic Senators must defect, an unrealistic expectation considering the current state of the Trump administration.

Ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pointed to the failure of Republicans to vote on the nomination of Merrick Garland to the seat opened by the death of Antonin Scalia, the seat Gorsuch was nominated to, as one sore point.

McCaskill told the donors that Gorsuch "was one of the better ones" on Trump's list of about 20 possible court nominees he released during the campaign and that if Democrats were successful in blocking him, Trump may come back with an even less palatable nominee for Democrats.

Austin Stukins, the executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said in an email that "Gorsuch is eminently qualified to serve on the highest court in the land, and Claire McCaskill is treating him like a pawn in a game of chess".

Senators Maria Cantwell of Washington state, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Tammy Duckworth of IL said on Thursday they would vote against Gorsuch.

The confirmation vote itself would require a simple majority in the chamber, which Republicans control 52-48.

"It is obviously a really hard situation", McCaskill told reporters.

On Friday, Oregon Democratic Sen. That GOP blockade of Garland was a awful precedent, and one that nearly ensures that the next time a court vacancy opens up in the final year of a president's term, the opposition party if in the Senate majority will block the nominee - whatever the merits.

"Democrats who consider themselves moderates should not join the left wing in waging a filibuster", Capito spokeswoman Amy Graham said in an email Thursday.

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