Lindsey Graham leading public relations battle to confirm Gorsuch to U.S. Supreme Court

March 29, 2017 GMT

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans and Democrats are waging competing public relations wars surrounding efforts to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

For the GOP, in the lead-up to next week’s floor debate and ultimate confirmation vote, there might be no better spokesman than U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

When Graham says Democrats should support Gorsch to succeed late-Justice Antonin Scalia despite his conservative politics, he can point to his own record voting for two of President Barack Obama’s left-leaning justices because they were otherwise qualified.

When Democrats say they’re retaliating against Republicans for blocking confirmation last year of Merrick Garland, Graham points out there was precedent to not advance the nominee of an outgoing president. Furthermore, Graham supported his party’s stonewalling of Garland even when he expected Trump to lose and Democrat Hillary Clinton to nominate someone far more liberal.

Finally, Graham is willing, albeit reluctantly, to support Republicans deploying the so-called “nuclear option,” a major and permanent change to the institution’s rules he has in the past opposed.

Currently, the Senate requires more than 60 votes to advance to an up-or-down vote on a Supreme Court nominee. With Democrats promising by and large to oppose moving forward on the Garland nomination, Republicans are expected to change the rules to require a 50-vote threshold.

In 2013, Senate Democrats, then in control of the chamber, used the “nuclear option” to institute a 50-vote threshold to confirm all nominees except for Supreme Court aspirants, frustrated with Republican blockading. Graham, who forged a bipartisan agreement with 13 other Senators to avoid a nuclear option scenario back in 2005, cautioned of the consequences.

He reiterated those warnings again on Wednesday to a handful of reporters. He had just concluded a press conference on the steps of the Supreme Court, where he was joined by fellow members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and half a dozen of Gorsuch’s former clerks in calling on Democrats to allow a confirmation vote to proceed next week without incident.

“Every Senate seat becomes more important,” Graham said. “If you don’t have to reach across the aisle to pick up a few votes, you’re probably going to pick more conservative or more liberal judges.”

With “every senate contest a referendum on the court,” Graham predicted uglier political campaigns going forward. Up for reelection in 2020, Graham recalled “having the crap beat out of (him)” 12 years ago for partnering with Democrats to avert the “nuclear option.”

In the years to go, Graham continued, a 50-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees could result in more ideological justices and a legislative body as politically fractured as the U.S. House.

“It’s going to be a bad, sad day in the Senate,” Graham said.