The game of chicken appears to be on between the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, which has left some centrist Democrats undeclared on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer insists he has the forty-one votes to filibuster, but enough Democrats, at least publicly, appear hesitant to go along with it. If he is successful, and cloture is blocked (sixty votes are currently required to end debate on a Supreme court nominee), Majority leader Mitch McConnell can use the nuclear option. If he chooses this route, a simple Senate majority can vote to kill the filibuster, giving the slim Republican majority the ability to confirm Gorsuch without a single Democratic vote.
Usually, centrist Republicans like Lindsey Graham, Lisa Murkowski, and John McCain oppose “running roughshod” and changing rules for political reasons. But all three of these Senators have indicated they’ll push the button for Gorsuch’s confirmation. Senators Portman, Flake, and Gardner almost certainly follow suit. The lone holdout I can see at this point is Susan Collins, who has generally opposed process changes for political expediency. But since the Republicans can afford to lose two Senators and, with Vice President Mike Pence, go nuclear, it is more likely the Senator from Maine will spend the next ten days trying to convince centrists on the Democratic side to break the filibuster than to spend her energy trying to convince her own party not to drop the bomb.
The number of Democrats who have not yet positioned themselves is dwindling by the day: Florida Senator Bill Nelson came out against Gorsuch today, and Virginia Senator Mark Warner, recently expressed his disappointment in the nominee. Senate Republicans are determined to see Gorsuch seated: after all, they kept the seat open all through last year’s election cycle. Even for “go along, get along” types within the Republican conference, their desire to see the Scalia seat filled with a conservative judge appears to override their desire to preserve the filibuster. Despite early groans over some of the President’s Cabinet picks, Republicans confirmed every single one of them that didn’t withdraw from the process. Despite all of the drama during Betsy DeVos, and two Republican defections, she was still confirmed. Senate Republicans want this seat filled, and even the squishiest among them likes the nominee.
This sets up a long, somewhat awkward week: the Senate Judiciary Committee vote was delayed until next Monday even though it isn’t a mystery how all but perhaps three Democrats will vote. Ads will continue to run in red states where Senate Democrats face re-election, activists will continue to call, email, and tweet at their Senators to AVENGE GARLAND/ SEAT GORSUCH RIGHT NOW, while a shrinking number of members try to keep their position out of the public eye. While media speculation have shifted a bit to the moderate wing of the GOP, remember: it held firm on blocking President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. If and when the big red button gets pushed, they’ll probably tell themselves, and the public, that Reid fired first.