James Werrell

Stopping Trump nominees will be almost impossible

I, like millions of others who were blindsided by Donald Trump’s presidential victory, was fired up by the Women’s March on Washington (and in cities throughout the U.S. and on every continent) that occurred the day after his inauguration.

Maybe the march will evolve into a movement. Maybe all the millions of women – and supportive men – who joined to protest the reign of Trump will go home, organize and start building the resistance at the ground level.

But what keeps echoing in the back of my mind is the quote from President Barack Obama: “Elections have consequences.” My blood pressure rises whenever I think about how the outcome of the election might have been different if just a few thousand more of those marchers from key states had voted on Election Day instead of waiting until afterward to protest the results.

How many disgruntled millennial voters said to themselves on Election Day, “I was a Bernie supporter and I can’t support Hillary. It doesn’t make any difference anyway. They’re all just corrupt politicians.”

But, as we’ve witnessed in just the first few days of the Trump presidency, it does make a difference. The truth of that couldn’t be more starkly illustrated than by Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to fill the seat on the U.S. Supreme Court vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

A raucous liberal Democratic base already is threatening to run primary opponents against any Democratic senator who votes to affirm Gorsuch. But, again, it’s a little late for that.

Last year, Senate Republicans stalled all action on President Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat, Merrick Garland, an eminently qualified jurist chosen as a centrist candidate who could appeal to liberals and conservatives alike. But Republicans refused to put the nomination up for a vote. They refused to even meet with Garland.

The excuse for this stalling tactic was that senators should wait until after the presidential election so that the voters could express their preference. They did this even though Obama still had nearly a year left in his second term.

The move was unprecedented. No sitting president has ever been denied outright the authority to offer up a nominee who would then receive fair consideration by the Senate.

Some Republican senators say they made an exception because it was an election year. But that was baloney. They tipped their hand when many of them declared they were prepared to block hearings on any nominee for the next four years if Hillary Clinton won the election.

Democrats have rightfully labeled this a stolen seat.

But the stalling tactic, while completely underhanded, paid off, and Gorsuch is almost certain to be confirmed – the threats of seething liberals notwithstanding.

Senate Democrats could filibuster, as they are allowed to do under current Senate rules when considering a nominee to the high court. That means Gorsuch would need 60 votes to be confirmed, and the Republicans have only 52.

If Democrats stand united, they could prevent Gorsuch from being confirmed – at least temporarily. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could push for the so-called “nuclear option,” which would take away the right to filibuster, allowing Republicans to confirm Gorsuch with a simple majority vote.

Trump already is urging McConnell to “go nuclear” if the Democrats try to block Gorsuch.

The problem is that even if Democrats can stop Gorsuch, then what? Trump can just nominate another conservative, one perhaps even more conservative than Gorsuch without his sterling academic credentials.

Democrats don’t have the votes to block Trump’s nominees. And if Justice Anthony Kennedy steps down, and Trump gets to choose another nominee, the court moves even farther to the right.

And what if Trump somehow is removed from office before the end of his first term? Well, Vice President Mike Pence is waiting in the wings.

As Obama said, elections have consequences.

James Werrell is opinion page editor of The Herald.