President Donald Trump has suggested that the Senate Majority Leader, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, should change the chamber's filibuster rule so that this his appointee to the Supreme Court can be confirmed even against unanimous Democratic opposition.
On Feb. 1, Trump took questions from reporters during an event at the White House. Asked about growing Democratic opposition against his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Trump stated that he would like for McConnell to invoke the "nuclear option."
"If we end up with that gridlock I would say if you can, Mitch, go nuclear," Trump said, according to CNN. "That would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was caught up in the web."
The so-called nuclear option would amend current Senate rules to change the current threshold of 60 votes needed to break a filibuster of Supreme Court nominees. Republicans only have 52 seats in the chamber, meaning that Democrats can block Gorsuch's nomination in perpetuity with a filibuster. If the nuclear option is invoked, then Republicans could use their majority to both break a filibuster and vote to confirm Gorsuch.
The former Senate Majority Leader, retired Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, had invoked the nuclear option to break GOP filibusters against President Barack Obama's appointees for to his Cabinet and lower court judges, but declined to do so for Supreme Court appointments.
"It's up to Mitch, but I would say go for it," Trump concluded.
McConnell has repeatedly signaled that he will not invoke the nuclear option, asserting that he does not want to irrevocably change the rules of the Senate the way that Reid had.
"Senate rules are a matter for the Senate and a lot other people have opinions," McConnell told The Hill on Jan. 27.
"We've already adopted the rules for this Congress at the beginning of the year," McConnell added. "Basically we didn't adopt any because in the Senate rules are permanent, unlike the House which every two year adopts a new set of rules. We don't."
The Kentucky lawmaker added: "I'm confident we'll get a Supreme Court nominee confirmed."
Democratic lawmakers have faced growing pressure from their constituents to oppose Gorsuch in response to the GOP blockade against Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court seat that Trump hopes to fill with Gorsuch became available when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February 2016. Obama had appointed Garland to fill the seat, but the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, denied him a hearing for nearly a year.
Hatch and his colleagues had asserted that there was an unspoken precedent to not consider any Supreme Court appointees nominated by a president in his final year in office, stating that the seat should be filled by whoever was elected in the 2016 presidential election.
The Utah lawmaker appeared to undermine his own argument by suggesting that he would allow hearings for Garland during Obama's lame-duck sessions if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, won the election, according to Salon.
The calls for Democratic senators to push back on Gorsuch's nomination have been echoed by veterans of the Obama administration. Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Obama, took to Twitter to suggest that Democrats should oppose Gorsuch in response to how Garland was treated.
"The Democrats should treat Trump's Supreme Court pick with the same exact courtesy the GOP showed Merrick Garland," Pfeiffer tweeted out on Jan. 31. "Don't flinch, don't back down."