The Democrats to Watch on Cloture for Gorsuch

We have been tracking Senators’ positions on Gorsuch since his nomination was announced, and as the hearings wind down, the pressure increases on Democrats to either hold the line and force Senate Majority Leader McConnell to kill the filibuster, or to allow enough members to vote for cloture.

We’ve had Senator Joe Manchin as a yes vote for cloture since nearly the beginning: while he wants a “sixty vote candidate”, he’s made it clear he opposes a filibuster. It’s worth noting that the West Virginia Senator was one of the few Democrats to oppose nuking the filibuster on Cabinet nominees when it was put to a floor vote in 2013.

No Republican opposes Gorsuch, but that still leaves them seven votes short of cloture.

The Pliable Democrats

Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota), Jon Tester (Montana), Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Angus King (Maine), Mark Warner (Virginia), Claire McCaskill (Missouri)

Rather than looking at how each Senator’s state voted (the re-election pressure angle), we went through all of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees to identify the members most frequently willing to break with their party. All six of these Senators voted more often than not for the President’s nominees. Three of them- Heitkamp, King, and Warner- voted for Rex Tillerson. Five of these six also released various statements at the beginning of this process arguing against a vengeful filibuster.

The Weary Ones

Dick Durbin (Illinois), Bill Nelson (Florida)

The Democrats who have been around the block a few times in the minority. Senator Durbin was first elected in 1996, meaning he’s served in the minority and majority for nearly equal periods. Senator Nelson won his seat back in 2000, and has thus served in the minority for a bit under half his total time in office. Both have not committed to a filibuster yet, and may be hesitant to risk killing it, even if they’ve voted more liberally on certain issues than even their own Senate Minority Leader who is now determined to filibuster. Senator Durbin is the more critical member in this small group: he serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee. If, and that’s a big if, he opposes a filibuster, we’d probably know about it during the Committee’s vote on April 3rd.

The Newer, Uncommitted Set

Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada), Gary Peters (Michigan), Chris Coons (Delaware), Michael Bennet (Colorado), Tim Kaine (Virginia)

All of these Senators have served since January 2007, haven’t been as quick to back Trump nominations, and lack the experience of serving while in the minority for prolonged periods. For whatever reason, many of these Senators, who have had no problem vocally opposing a multitude of Trump’s Cabinet nominees, have been careful to avoid a rush on declaring a position with regards to Gorsuch. Mrs. Cortez Masto has voted for roughly half of the President’s Cabinet nominees and has tweeted her careful observation of the hearings. Senator Coons has been careful in revealing his intentions, but made things clear from the start he wanted Gorsuch to get at least a hearing. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, we get a peak ahead with his final decision: should he vote to recommend, he’s not filibustering.

The Surprises

While we have all remaining Democrats as nay, if McConnell is serious about nuking the filibuster, that could change. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy has been in office since 1975, and, while probably opposing the nominee, may consider a cloture vote to keep a critical tradition alive. Another Democrat to watch on this maneuver is California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who’s own re-election status is still a question mark. Should she be retiring anyway, she too may vote for cloture to preserve the filibuster.