JUDICIARY

Merkley ends marathon Senate speech against Gorsuch

Kelly Wright reports

 

After more than 15 hours on the Senate floor, Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley late Wednesday morning ended his marathon speech against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Merkley began speaking just before 7 p.m. ET Tuesday vowing to talk “as long as I’m able to” to protest Republicans’ 2016 blockade of former President Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat Merrick Garland – in the latest disruption on the road to a vote for Gorsuch.

Merkley stood in front of a blow-up of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

During his talk-a-thon, he said Gorsuch "is much like his idol and role model Antonin Scalia and other far-right conservatives on the Supreme Court. And while this unbalanced approach might make for interesting reading the courtroom is not an academic paper each case involves real people with real problems."

Merkley’s lengthy speech amped up the drama but did little to change the inevitable outcome.

In votes set for Thursday, Democrats will try to block Gorsuch's confirmation, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will change Senate procedure to lower the threshold required to advance Supreme Court nominees from 60 votes to a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.

"They seem determined to head into the abyss," the Kentucky Republican said of Democrats as debate began Tuesday over Gorsuch's nomination. "They need to reconsider."

Merkley’s staff streamed the video of him on the Senate floor - all 15 hours and 28 minutes of it. 

"Make no mistake: this is a stolen seat — & if this theft is completed, it will undermine the integrity of the court for decades," Merkley tweeted as he began.

His endurance was praised by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who tweeted, "Go, @SenJeffMerkley, Go! #StopGorsuch #HoldTheFloor."

Merkley's speech wasn't expected to delay Wednesday's debate on Trump's nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch or votes expected Thursday and Friday -- when Republicans are increasingly likely to use the so-called "nuclear option" to push through a Democratic filibuster.

Senators of both parties bemoaned the further erosion of their traditions of bipartisanship and consensus. Some were already predicting that they would end up eliminating the 60-vote requirement for legislation, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell committed Tuesday that would not happen under his watch.

He drew a distinction between legislation being filibustered and the filibuster being used against nominees, something that is a more recent development.

Gorsuch now counts 55 supporters in the Senate: the 52 Republicans, along with three moderate Democrats from states Trump won last November — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

SEN. MIKE LEE VOWS TO CONFIRM GORSUCH

A fourth Senate Democrat, Michael Bennet from Gorsuch's home state of Colorado, has said he will not join in the filibuster against Gorsuch but has not said how he will vote on final passage.

McConnell, R-Ky., told Fox News' "The First 100 Days" Tuesday that the GOP's use of the so-called "nuclear option" to confirm Gorsuch is their response to the Democrats' "breaking the rules of the Senate" in 2013.

"For 230 years, up or down, simple majority [required] for Supreme Court, Cabinet, everything until [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer invented this, so it’s a fairly recent thing to filibuster executive branch appointments," McConnell told host Dana Perino. "All we’ll do faced with this filibuster is even that up so the Supreme Court confirmation process is dealt with just like it was throughout the history of the country."

Gorsuch, 49, is a 10-year veteran of a federal appeals court in Denver, where he's compiled a highly conservative record that's led Democrats to complain he sides with corporations without regards to the humanity of the plaintiffs before him.

Merkley also took issue with the Republican claim that Supreme Court justices should not be confirmed during an election year, and listed several judges in the past that were appointed during those timeframes, OregonLive.com reported.

"Until the FBI and Congress complete #Russia investigation, confirming @realDonaldTrump lifetime appointment to #SCOTUS is premature," Merkley tweeted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report .