WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR MEDIA) – Long-standing political protocols are routinely ripped to shreds in Washington these days, but certain time-honored traditions live on, sometimes to the great distress of those involved.
One such convention entails courtesy calls by Supreme Court nominees to the U.S. Senate’s 100 members.
Hands are shaken. Small talk is made. Photos are taken.
Nobody really loves the awkward interactions, but nearly everyone does their duty in these nationally televised first dates.
Gorsuch charms senators
Judge Neil Gorsuch, who sits on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, was nominated two weeks ago and has been seen racing all over the Capitol with great zeal and a big grin.
The Trump pick is doggedly courteous and never misses an opportunity to be agreeable when meeting members of both parties, usually in their well-appointed offices surrounded by fidgeting staffers.
Asked to take pictures in front of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s giant taxidermied fish, Walter, the 49-year-old federal appeals court judge hit his mark and no doubt pleased the four-term Alaska senator who caught the creature herself and named him after “Grumpy Old Men” star Walter Matthau.
There is a marked difference between Gorsuch and the visible drudgery faced by Obama nominee Judge Merrick Garland, who called on more than half of the 100-member Senate despite knowing he would never get a hearing, much less a vote.
Gorsuch knows the numbers are in his favor and seems determined to win over everyone he meets.
Democrats promise filibuster
Gorsuch must first be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will prove a low hurdle since Republicans hold a majority of seats on the committee.
Once the nomination passes out of Judiciary and makes it to the full floor, leading members of the Democratic Party have signaled that they will force Republicans to overcome a 60-vote threshold to advance the nomination.
This will be a two-part voting process.
First vote requires 60
The first vote serves to cut off the floor debate (otherwise known as “invoking cloture”).
This obstacle carries a higher degree of difficulty, since it is at this moment that Democrats can threaten a filibuster, meaning at least 60 senators must vote to overrule the minority objectors and officially end debate.
Republicans hold 52 seats, so they will need eight Democrats to join the cloture effort.
While many Democrats resent the way Gorsuch, rather than Garland, came to be the nominee, the Denver-based judge appears to have solid credentials, and senators’ institutional respect for tradition will likely lead many Democrats to help break a filibuster and allow him to receive a final vote.
This does not mean the cooperative Dems support Gorsuch; it means they support his right to be considered.
Final vote is lower bar
Once the 60-vote cloture is overcome, the second vote serves to formally approve or reject Gorsuch’s appointment to the high court.
This vote requires a simple 51-vote majority.
Republicans occupy 52 seats, so there is no doubt that this will be successful, with or without the support of Democrats.
Speed bumps ahead
The timeline for wrapping up Gorsuch’s confirmation process remains murky.
The Trump administration said it would like the deal sealed within three weeks; the snail-paced Senate is unlikely to make that happen.
Gorsuch will be required to submit answers to an in-depth questionnaire regarding his personal history and judicial philosophy, all while continuing his courtesy calls to remaining senators.
Once the questionnaire is complete, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, will schedule nomination hearings.
Democrats on Judiciary may follow a strategy we’ve recently seen employed by the minority party with Trump cabinet nominees, slowing the committee approval process by exploiting parliamentary loopholes.
This delay tactic could add several weeks to the confirmation calendar, but it is temporary.
Once Gorsuch’s nomination finally moves to the Senate floor, Democrats will no doubt insist on consuming the full amount of time allowed under the rules, using this opportunity to grandstand, air grievances and share legitimate concerns.
In the end, Republicans are favored to prevail and Gorsuch will likely receive a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales