WASHINGTON ― Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declared himself highly skeptical of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee on Tuesday, saying federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch avoided “answers like the plague” in a one-on-one meeting.
“He is clearly a smart and capable man who loves being a judge,” Schumer told reporters on Capitol Hill a couple hours after the two sat down. “But his nomination comes at a perilous time in the relationship between the executive and the judicial branches.”
Schumer noted that Trump has repeatedly challenged the independence of judges, from questioning the ability of a Mexican-American judge to weigh a case against Trump University to Trump’s recent denunciation of the “so-called judge” who stayed his executive order on refugees and immigrants from seven countries.
Considering the chief executive’s attitude, Schumer argued, it was especially important for the Senate to make sure that whomever Trump nominates has the fortitude to remain independent on the bench.
“The bar for a Supreme Court nominee to prove they can be independent has never, never been higher,” Schumer said.
And Schumer professed himself seriously concerned by Gorsuch, who refused to answer even general questions, he said.
Schumer said Gorsuch would not say what he thought the founding fathers intended with the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bars government officials from accepting anything of value from foreign governments.
Many Trump critics contend that Trump violates the clause simply by maintaining ownership of his hotels, where foreign dignitaries will stay.
Schumer also said Gorsuch ducked questions on whether a Muslim ban would be constitutional and whether he had any opinions on conservative legal scholars who think Trump is already abusing his executive powers.
Although Trump’s ownership of his corporation could be a cause for litigation and his refugee and immigrant ban is already facing challenges in the courts, Schumer insisted that Gorsuch could have answered his questions.
“He would have been no more biased than any of the justices sitting on the court,” Schumer said. “The judge today avoided answers like the plague.”
Schumer did not declare a position on Gorsuch’s confirmation, but repeated his insistence that Gorsuch would need 60 votes ― the number required to overcome a filibuster.
And he argued that if Gorsuch does not get 60, it should not necessarily prompt Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to use the so-called nuclear option to change the Senate’s rules to confirm the judge.
“Nothing forces them to change the rules,” Schumer said. “If the Supreme Court nominee doesn’t earn 60 votes, the answer is not to change the rules. It is to change the nominee who can garner the 60 votes. Because 60 votes means that it is almost definitionally a bipartisan, mainstream nominee.”
McConnell has repeatedly declined to say what he will do if Democrats filibuster, although he has also vowed that Gorsuch will be confirmed.
Eight Democrats could vote with the 52 Republicans to advance Gorsuch, but Schumer’s declaration suggests it’s unlikely. And if McConnell makes good on his pledge, it may well require the nuclear option to break a filibuster.