Senators like to talk, but not usually this much.
For over 15 hours starting Tuesday evening, Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley held the Senate floor to speak against President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch.
Beginning at 6:46 p.m., Merkley — who prides himself on completing ironman triathlons — spoke all night and into the morning, with just a few dozen charts and a glass of water on hand. Never sitting or eating as the hours ticked by, the Oregon senator spoke to a mostly empty chamber, but tens of thousands tuned in online to see him argue against confirming Gorsuch.
Merkley repeatedly railed against his Republican colleagues for blocking President Obama’s nominee last year, Merrick Garland, not even giving him a hearing. “For the first time in U.S. history, a seat has been stolen from one president and delivered to another in a court-packing scheme. If that were to succeed, it would set a precedent that will haunt the Court for decades to come,” he said.
Though it was quite long, Merkley’s speech was not a filibuster. After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky filed for “cloture” Tuesday to move the Gorsuch vote forward, a 30-hour period for debate began, which Merkley partly filled. The speech has done nothing to slow down the confirmation process.
Merkley called Gorsuch a “ruggedly handsome” man with “an appealing manner,” but argued that his amiability masks a judicial philosophy that’s outside the mainstream. “[Gorsuch] is a lifelong conservative activist, rewriting the law to make it something that it was never intended to be,” Merkley said. In 2006, however, not a single Senate Democrat objected to Gorsuch’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, one of four judges up for Senate confirmation on July 20 that year.
A little over a decade later, most of the 48 Senate Democrats now agree with Merkley and have announced their intention to vote against Gorsuch, setting up a showdown this week over Senate rules that require a Supreme Court nominee to receive 60 votes. At the moment, it looks like only 55 senators will vote for Gorsuch.
McConnell has indicated that Republicans will vote to change the rules to only require a majority vote, also known as the nuclear option. Changing the rules, some senators worry, could lead to greater politicization of the Supreme Court.
Republicans argue that Gorsuch is an eminently qualified judge and Democrats are obstructing because they and their base are upset that Trump is president. “It doesn’t matter who this president nominates,” McConnell argued on the Senate floor following Merkley’s speech.
Democrats meanwhile argue that Gorsuch is outside the mainstream and that Republicans should not expect Dems’ approval after what the GOP did to Garland last year.
“It was a warfare tactic of partisanship,” Merkley argued.