WASHINGTON ― Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the staunchest defenders of Senate rules, hammered on Wednesday his party’s plans to change those rules to confirm nominee Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, then said he has no choice but to go along with it.
McCain had signaled that he might do so earlier in the week, but made it official in a Senate floor speech in which he highlighted both Democratic and Republican hypocrisy on the issue.
“We are in a terrible place. My colleagues should understand that this is a historic moment if we move forward with it,” McCain said before announcing his intentions to help them move forward.
Supreme Court nominations require 60 votes to advance if any senators raise objections to moving forward and mount a filibuster. Democrats announced Monday that they had enough senators objecting to stop President Donald Trump’s nominee.
That prompted GOP leaders to say they would employ the so-called “nuclear option” to change the rules and end filibusters for the Supreme Court.
Just to make sure everyone understood where he came from, McCain reminded people how he has worked over the last 14 years to defuse showdowns over judicial nominations, once joining the “Gang of 14” that cleared the way for a number of former President George W. Bush’s nominations.
Then he specifically quoted his own party leaders warning of the dangers of ending filibusters in 2013, when Democrats went nuclear over long-stalled lower court nominations.
Among the half dozen he cited were then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), now the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the third-ranking Republican.
Republicans had repeatedly declared Democrats were breaking the rules to change the rules, and McConnell warned specifically that Democrats were about to end “one of the most cherished safeguards of liberty in our government—the right of a political minority to have a voice.”
“We warned that the Democrats would not be in control of the White House or Senate forever, and would come to regret their actions, and we were
right,” McCain said. “Their actions came back to haunt them. I believe our
actions will haunt us as well.”
He also pointed to Democrats such as Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who adamantly supported nuking the judicial filibuster while the GOP blocked so many judges that judicial emergencies were declared in much of the nation.
Warren once argued, “We need to call out these filibusters for what they are, naked attempts to nullify the results of the last election,” adding that senators not only had a right, but a duty to end them.
“What we are poised to do at the end of this week will have tremendous consequences and I fear that some day we will regret what we’re about to do, In fact, I’m confident we will.”
After his recitation of the past, McCain went on to argue that ending the filibuster will harm both the Senate and the judicial system.
“Now that we’re entering into an era where a simple majority decides all judicial nominations, we will see more and more nominees from the extremes of both left and right. I do not see how that will ensure a fair and impartial judiciary,” McCain said.
“What we are poised to do at the end of this week will have tremendous consequences and I fear that some day we will regret what we’re about to do,” he added. “In fact, I’m confident we will.”
Nevertheless, he declared he was sticking with his side, which is solely responsible for leaving the high court short of its full complement of judges since Justice Antonin Scalia died more than a year ago.
Republicans refused to even hold hearings for former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, let alone advance to a point where he could be filibustered. McCain did not object to his treatment.
“I find myself torn between protecting the traditions and practices of the Senate and the importance of having a full complement of justices on the Supreme Court,” McCain said. “I’m left with no choice. I will vote to change the rules an allow Judge Gorsuch to be confirmed by a simple majority.”
He did not explain why he thought leaving the court vacant last year was less important, but concluded he’d back the nuclear option “with great reluctance, not because I have any doubts that Judge Gorsuch will be an excellent justice but because of the further and perhaps irreparable damage that it will do to the United States Senate.”