UPDATE (4/6/17 1pm): Collins just voted for the nuclear option in a strict 52-48 party-line vote, forever lowering the threshold for Supreme Court nominees from 60 to 51. With the Dems no longer able to filibuster, Gorsuch will sail through his final vote tomorrow, with the support of Collins, all other Republicans, and a few red state Democrats. Collins apparently made a failed attempt to broker a compromise with Manchin and McCain, but the fact that Collins ultimately voted for the nuclear option despite calling it “tragic” “bad for the court” and “bad for the Senate” speaks volumes about the degree to which party loyalty impacts her decision making. I’ll post a new action item soon, but until then, please call to let her know how disappointed you are in her vote to make the Senate, and the Supreme Court, more partisan, ideologically-driven institutions.
In the week since Collins announced her opposition to the Trumpcare bill, which subsequently exploded in spectacular fashion on Friday, I’ve been wondering what the next strategic pressure point on our senior Senator should be that meets our criteria of being an issue she’s both gettable on and has direct control over. That issue has finally arrived: the coming vote to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.
It’s certainly not a sexy sounding issue, but hear me out. Despite his ability to smile through days of Senate questioning without showing his cards, Neil Gorsuch is an extremely conservative Supreme Court nominee, at least as conservative as Scalia himself and possibly more conservative than any of the current justices. More importantly, the seat he’s been nominated to fill was stolen from President Obama by Mitch McConnell, who had the Senate abdicate its constitutionally mandated responsibility to provide advice and consent on Supreme Court nominees for nearly a year in the hopes that a Republican would be elected President. Susan Collins was one of the few Republicans to meet with Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, and encouraged her colleagues to do the same, but Garland didn’t get so much as a hearing before the Republican controlled Judiciary Committee.
In response to massive constituent pressure, Senate Democrats have decided to mount a filibuster against Gorsuch, and as long as fewer than 8 of them defect, they’ll succeed. If that happens, McConnell has signaled that he will employ what’s known as “the nuclear option” to change the rules of the Senate, forever lowering the number of Senators needed to advance a Supreme Court nomination from 60 to 50 (not counting the Vice President’s tie-breaking vote). Harry Reid made a similar move in 2013, lowering the threshold to 50 for all executive branch and lower court nominees in the face of unprecedented obstruction of Obama’s judicial and executive brand appointments by McConnell.
So what about Collins? Based on her glowing statement after meeting with him, she’s clearly going to vote for Gorsuch, but it’s not clear that she would support McConnell in permanently eliminating the 60 vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees. She holds great respect for the Senate’s rules and norms, and in both of the last two battles over the nuclear option–as part of the famous “Gang of 14” in 2005 and again in 2013–she worked to negotiate a bipartisan compromise to avoid triggering it. Regarding McConnell’s threats to invoke the nuclear option for Gorsuch, she’s said she’s “not a proponent of changing the rules of the Senate” but has also indicated that it might be necessary, saying she’d be “very disheartened if we had to take that step.” McCain, Graham, Flake, Murkowski and others could all conceivably join Collins in stopping the nuclear option, and it would only take three Republicans to force McConnell to negotiate a deal with Schumer to preserve the filibuster and make some amends for stealing the Garland seat.
So let’s start calling on Collins to oppose the nuclear option! The vote to end the filibuster on Gorsuch is likely to happen on April 6, and if the Democrats are successful in sustaining it, McConnell will likely move immediately to invoke the nuclear option and get Gorsuch confirmed before the April recess starts on April 8. There’s no time to waste!
Thanks for all you do,