US President Donald Trump has said he will tell the Senate’s Republican leader to consider the option to “go nuclear” if political gridlock stalls his Supreme Court pick.
Such a move would mean changing Senate rules to make it impossible to filibuster a high court nominee.
The president told reporters that if Senate Democrats try to block Neil Gorsuch’s nomination, he would tell Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell: “If you can, Mitch, go nuclear, because that would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was caught up in the web.”
Mr McConnell has not said whether he might invoke the nuclear option if minority Democrats block Mr Gorsuch’s confirmation, as several already are threatening to do.
But the Senate leader has said repeatedly that, one way or another, Mr Gorsuch will be confirmed.
The nuclear option would mean unilaterally lowering the threshold needed to approve Mr Gorsuch from 60 to 50 votes, so that Republicans could use their 52-vote majority to put him on the court without Democrats’ consent.
Speaking on the Senate floor around the same time as President Trump made his views known, Mr McConnell said he expects to see Democrats “giving the new nominee a fair consideration and up-or-down vote just as we did for past presidents of both parties”.
What Mr McConnell did not say was that he refused last year to allow even a hearing for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.
Instead, the seat remained empty for 10 months and the court operated with eight justices as Mr McConnell maintained that only the next president should make the nomination.
Democrats remain furious over Mr Garland’s treatment. But their divisions were already on display even as Mr Gorsuch made the rounds on Capitol Hill accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, earning warm praise from Mr McConnell and other Senate Republicans.
A handful of Democrats did announce their opposition to the 49-year-old Denver-based judge on the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals whose conservative legal philosophy is seen as similar to that of Mr Scalia.
They argued that the Ivy League-educated son of a former Reagan administration official is outside the mainstream.
“This is a stolen seat being filled by an illegitimate and extreme nominee, and I will do everything in my power to stand up against this assault on the court,” said Sen Jeff Merkley.
Sen Merkley said even before the nominee was announced that he would hold up the nomination and force Republicans to find 60 votes for confirmation, a position that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has endorsed.
But other Democrats were holding off, saying Mr Gorsuch deserved a fair hearing.