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Republicans, Democrats hold dueling events as Gorsuch vote looms

With a confirmation vote for Neil Gorsuch expected next week and the threat of the nuclear option looming, senators from both parties held dueling news conferences Wednesday, painting different pictures of the Supreme Court nominee and blaming their opponents for the potential precedent-shattering vote.

“It’s quite clear that if he isn’t qualified then nobody is,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said at an outdoor event on the steps of the Supreme Court. “And if you’d be filibustering a judge like this, it’s (obvious) that you’d filibuster anyone.”

Here’s how senators plan to vote on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch

Flanked by Gorsuch’s former law clerks — who called him “a remarkable man and a remarkable judge” — Republican senators projected confidence over the Supreme Court pick. He’s “an incredible legal mind” with a “command of the law” that’s independent “from outside influence,” Grassley said.

Less than two hours later, the Democratic leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, rebutted: “This is no neutral, down-the-middle judge — even though he comes off as very erudite and very careful.”

“And if Judge Gorsuch fails to earn 60 votes and fails to demonstrate he is mainstream enough to sit on the highest court, we should change the nominee, not the rules,” Schumer added.

Democrats, Republicans on collision course toward nuclear option

With 52 votes in the Senate, Republicans need eight Democrats to join them and break the expected Democratic filibuster next week. It’s unclear yet whether they’ll get the 60 votes, and members on both sides are anxiously awaiting a handful of senators to decide how they will proceed.

That’s because Republicans are preparing to launch the so-called nuclear option to get around the 60 votes and advance Gorsuch’s nomination with a simple majority of 51. It would be a highly controversial decision that would permanently change the rules for how Supreme Court nominees are confirmed.

Democrats took the same action in 2013 for lower court judges, and now Republicans have said they’re willing to go the same route if Democrats continue the filibuster.

It’s under that pretext that Republicans came out in a show of support for Gorsuch at the Supreme Court on Wednesday. Along with Grassley, Sens. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Lindsey Graham spoke, urging their colleagues across the aisle against moving forward with the filibuster — or else.

As the high court’s white columns towered behind them, a (literal) choir of pro-Gorsuch advocates were close by, singing songs about the federal judge. Competing for the spotlight was a group of anti-Gorsuch protesters who chanted loudly: “Neil’s a bad deal,” and “Don’t change the rules; change the nominee.”

From the Capitol, the Democrats diverged, accusing the nomination of being fueled by what they called a “dark money” campaign of positive TV ads, paid for by undisclosed donors.

“The appalling unacceptable fact is that American justice is being bought,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said at the Democratic news conference. “We want to know who’s paying.”

Asked last week at the committee hearing why the ad money was flowing his way, Gorsuch kept his distance.

“You’d have to ask them,” he said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, blasted the nominee and argued that the judge was too passive on the issue of campaign finance.

“His lack of curiosity as to who is actually spending millions and millions of dollars in a political campaign to secure his confirmation was very disappointing,” he said at the news conference.

On the nuclear option, Schumer said Democrats are “hoping” there will be enough Republicans who will push back on the idea — against their own leader. While some have expressed concern for changing the rules for nominees down the road, many are sticking with the party line that Gorsuch will be confirmed, no matter what it takes.

Bucking his own party on the Democratic filibuster is Sen. Joe Manchin, who has long opposed filibustering the nominee. He met privately with Gorsuch Wednesday afternoon, and while he’s in favor of advancing Gorsuch’s nomination, it’s unknown yet how Manchin will vote on his confirmation in the end.

Gorsuch himself is “upbeat,” according to an aide close to the nominee. That aide said Gorsuch is “staying focused” on making sure he is getting the written responses back to Senators on the Judiciary Committee.

To clear his mind in his down time, Gorsuch is taking runs.

‎”This is in the Senate’s hands,” the aide told CNN, adding, “our approach is leave no stone unturned. We want to get to 60.”