Supreme Court nominee faces tough questions from Democrats

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," March 21, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: This has been a marathon hearing. They often are, but this one is really long. Let's bring in the panel: editor in chief of Lifezette, Laura Ingraham; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, 49 years old from Denver, Colorado, he would be the youngest Supreme Court justice. Laura, how do you think he is doing today?

LAURA INGRAHAM, LIFEZETTE.COM: I don't see how he could've done much better. The big hot button issues that people focus on today, question on Roe versus Wade, and he answered that its precedent and they would consider it as president. He, as most nominees before the Senate panel will not get into his personal views on issues. You heard him say he would walk out. That was a little dramatic, but nevertheless I think that would be probably assuage the concerns of some on the left about him.

Interestingly about the same-sex marriage case, he was more definitive where he said it's absolutely settled law, which is interesting. The precedent on that issue, which is also where Donald Trump seems to be, that's absolutely settled law. So that was a bit curious. But I think he comes across as a man who is very poised, very learned. It's always fun for someone who has any legal background to watch someone like an Al Franken try to go toe to toe with Gorsuch on constitutional law, and he's picking up little pamphlets and reading them to Judge Gorsuch. That was kind of a match that was not going to go well for Franken from the beginning. But I think he's done great. This has been a marathon hearing. There will be more questioning tomorrow. This is going to 9:00 tonight. And I don't see how he could have done much better, frankly.

BAIER: Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I do think there was a contrast between the absolute settled law of gay marriage and the, yes, I will admit Roe versus Wade has been confirmed many times. So there is a big difference there.

But he did what other nominees have done before him, which is work really, really hard not to get pinned down and be specific on almost anything. And I think for the Democrats, they went into it with a weak hand, couldn't really figure out how they were going to stop him or if they could. I think they come out of today, day one, with the same situation. They now have to decide, how do they want to lose? Do they want to lose with a filibuster or not?

BAIER: Here is the Senate minority leader and Senate majority leader on this vote that will come up eventually.


SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: I don't think a single one of our senators has endorsed Judge Gorsuch. I think he's made a very poor impression on many of our members and his refusal to answer questions.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: If they don't find Gorsuch acceptable, are they taking the position that the vacancy should never be filled at all?


BAIER: So, Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Refusal to answer questions? No Supreme Court nominee answers questions who has any hope of getting on the court. The whole idea is not just be calm and collected and knowledgeable but to be nimble. This is an exercise in obfuscation. You have to go nine hours, perhaps 11 hours. He'll break Hillary's Benghazi indoor record, where you basically say nothing and you give nothing away. And he did that beautifully.

When Democrats complain about not taking stands, you go back to Ruth Bader Ginsburg who made it a principle of her nominating process that she would not in any way telegraph where she would stand on anything. Ever since the Bork nomination and the fiasco of the attacks on him, it is understood your job up there is to dance, to express fealty to the constitution, to say you will be independent, and that's it. And he did that beautifully.

BAIER: There was only one flash of a little bit of anger, I think in an exchange with Durbin, Senator Durbin, about LBGT and as a professor what he was tied to believe and what he believed. He just moments ago, Laura, said that he found President Trump's talk and actions speaking about the judiciary, attacking them, "disheartening and demoralizing." Interesting he says that. One of the questions is independence from President Trump and the ability to adjudicate cases that come up against him.

INGRAHAM: That's what he was quoted as having said behind closed doors in meetings with various senators. Listening to what Schumer said, we don't have any Democrats who support them, it begs the question of, which a lot of conservatives had at the very beginning, not that they don't like Gorsuch, that if the Democrats are going to go to the wall on this, then you might have gone for someone who was a little bit more of a sure bet as a conservative in this first go around. Judge Pryor, obviously Tom Hardiman, Steve Colloton, others. And instead they went with Gorsuch who is, you know, you can see him. He's polished. He's smooth.

BAIER: And he doesn't have a case record on abortion.

INGRAHAM: Yes. And could he be an evolving justice when he gets into the court and evolve like some of the previous Republican nominees have done. I hope not, but they are going to the go to the wall on Gorsuch? Then, hey --

BAIER: Who are they not going to go to the wall for?

INGRAHAM: Yes, exactly.

LIASSON: The Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society do not think he's going to turn out like --

INGRAHAM: Better not.

LIASSON: They feel confident.

INGRAHAM: Better not. They said the same thing about some other justices.

BAIER: I want to do a quick round on where we think we are on health care. We put up this leaning no, no in the House at about 31. Maybe those are changing, maybe they're not. But Mara, do you have a sense of where this is?

LIASSON: That's what everyone's been trying to figure out. They can afford to lose a big number, big bunch of those, 21. That gives them some pad if they get it. I think they feel by scheduling this, by having it be you want to repeal Obamacare or not? You want to undermine your new president or not? They probably will muscle this through.

BAIER: President Trump up on the Hill, Charles, saying I honestly think many of you will lose your seats in 2018 if you don't get this done.

KRAUTHAMMER: He has weaponized Twitter and he said you better come aboard. He did it with a smile, he did it with a joke, but I think he means it. There are people here who don't want to be primaried and they might be.

Look, these bills always end up as 11th hour, people have their heart in their mouth. This happened with Obamacare itself. This happened with the Clinton tax hike in the early 1990s. Last minute, you win by one vote. It's hard to believe that they are going to allow this to go down for two or three votes. In the old days there would be a lot of post offices that would be established at the last minute. You can't do that now. But there are other ways of smoothing it.

BAIER: Laura, I talk to conservatives, and I know you talk to them every day, and it just is this overwhelming rip up the thing from its roots. And they don't feel like this bill does it. And does President Trump putting heat on change the dynamic?

INGRAHAM: Right now they don't have the votes. I just got off the phone with one of the members of the Freedom Caucus, he said 33 no's. I don't know that the configuration is of Republicans and Democrats, they don't have the votes. And I think Paul Ryan is not in the position right now where he really wants to do negotiating on the core issues of the mandate. Those mandate types of services, mandate under 26, they don't want to negotiate that.

I think the groundwork should have been laid a lot more clearly with what the president wanted in this bill and not perhaps farmed it out to Paul Ryan to the extent they did. Not that Paul Ryan is bad, but I think they could've done a better job getting everyone on board earlier.

LIASSON: Are conservatives scared about Donald Trump coming after them if they vote no?

INGRAHAM: They are not budging on the Freedom Caucus. That's the word I just got before we came on the air. They are not budging and they are not afraid.

BAIER: And there are not -- there are signals from the Senate, Tom Cotton I mentioned, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Michael Lee tweeting out today that he is not accepting this bill as it currently sits in the Senate. They can only lose two over there.

LIASSON: Then you have Susan Collins who has different objections.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's what makes the Freedom Caucus resistance so ironic. What they are going to get back from the Senate assuming it goes to the Senate is going to be unrecognizable. So why don't you pass this? Get it to the Senate and end up in conference and find out what you can get.

BAIER: Conference committee is when the Senate and the House come together and they try to work out and get to a final bill. We will follow it every step of the way.

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