JUDICIARY

In rare concession, top Dem predicts Gorsuch will be confirmed

New York's Kirsten Gillibrand predicted that President Trump's pick for Supreme Court will be confirmed.

New York's Kirsten Gillibrand predicted that President Trump's pick for Supreme Court will be confirmed.  (AP)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand,  D-N.Y., said Tuesday that President Trump’s pick to replace Justice Scalia on the Supreme Court will likely be confirmed because even if he does not win enough votes, the "nuclear option" would likely be employed.

“I hope we do vote him down,” she said in an interview with NY1. “But make no mistake: If we do hold the line with 60 votes, (Sen.) Mitch McConnell will change the rules the next day.”

McConnell has danced around the question of whether he would “go nuclear” to confirm Neil Gorsuch.

The nuclear option would mean unilaterally lowering the threshold needed to approve Gorsuch from 60 to 50 votes, so that Republicans could use their 52-vote majority to put him on the court without Democrats’ consent.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said earlier this month that he has "serious, serious concerns" about Gorsuch.

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Gorsuch, in the meantime, has tried to make clear to Democrats that he's an independent thinker.

Gorsuch told senators that he found President Trump's attacks on the judiciary "disheartening" and "demoralizing" after Trump had lashed out at a federal judge who issued a stay on his refugee and immigration ban.

Last week, Gorsuch told Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin that he hopes to be "half the nominee" as Merrick Garland, the judge nominated by President Obama last year, only to be blocked by Senate Republicans.

Durbin, D-Ill., also said Gorsuch indicated support for criminal justice reform — a Durbin priority — and disavowed a 2005 National Review article he'd written criticizing Democrats and liberals.

"He said it was probably one of the biggest mistakes he ever made," Durbin recalled Thursday. "It's a terrible article. He wishes it would just disappear."

Though Democrats who have met with him have almost uniformly said that the perfectly pedigreed federal appeals court judge is impressive, Gorsuch's overtures may not be enough to win him an easy confirmation.

Liberals are pressuring Democrats to strongly oppose Trump's pick. Several Democratic senators say they are uncomfortable with some of Gorsuch's judicial decisions.

North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, issued a statement saying she discussed several local issues with the judge and "it is our job as U.S. senators to perform this function and not play politics."

Other Democrats have been more open with concerns. Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy says he's wary of Gorsuch's sharp criticism of the Chevron doctrine, which holds that judges should defer to federal departments and agencies to fill in the blanks of certain laws, including on immigration and the environment.

The framers, Gorsuch wrote last year, intended for lawmakers to make the laws, executives to execute them and judges to decipher their meaning.

Murphy says Gorsuch's comments on Trump's tweets are irrelevant to his confirmation.

"It would be a story if he wasn't disheartened by the president of the United States openly attacking federal judges," Murphy says.

The Associated Press contributed to this report