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President Trump backs ‘nuclear’ option to confirm Judge Gorsuch

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to Neil Gorsuch, Supreme Court nominee, with Vice President Mike Pence at Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. Credit: Bloomberg / Alex Wong

President Donald Trump endorsed the “nuclear” option Wednesday for confirming his Supreme Court nominee, urging the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to change the voting rules in order to circumvent Democratic opposition.

Trump said McConnell (R-Ky.) should lower the 60-vote threshold now needed for Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation and instead require a simple majority.

“If we end up with the same gridlock that they’ve had in Washington for last — longer than eight years, in all fairness to President Obama, a lot longer than eight years . . . I would say, ‘If you can, Mitch, go nuclear,’ ” Trump said at a White House gathering of conservative groups to discuss his high court pick.

“Because that would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was caught up in the web,” he added of Gorsuch.

Some Democrats have said they want to block Gorsuch’s nomination, but it’s unclear how they will oppose him. If the so-called nuclear option is invoked, the 52 Senate Republicans would not need eight additional Democratic votes to break through an anticipated filibuster.

McConnell has indicated a hesitation to change the rules.

He evoked the Founding Fathers on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Wednesday morning, saying, “I think we ought to think long and hard about whether we want to blow up the institution of the Senate for some kind of short-term advantage.”

Trump called Gorsuch, of Denver, a conservative who had bipartisan support in lower-court appointments, “perfect in almost every way.”

The president predicted earlier Wednesday that the federal appeals court judge would be “approved very, very quickly.”

Gorsuch’s first call after Trump announced his nomination Tuesday night was to Merrick Garland, the moderate judge who was President Barack Obama’s choice to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. Garland’s confirmation process was stalled for months by Senate Republicans, who did not grant him a hearing.

Spicer noted that two other Supreme Court justices nominated by Obama — Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor — were not subject to the 60-vote threshold.

“Republicans, despite some political and philosophical differences, viewed them as mainstream and qualified,” Spicer said. “Judge Gorsuch should receive the same fair treatment.”

In the late afternoon, Trump made an unannounced trip to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to honor the memory of Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, 36, of Peoria, Ill., who was killed Sunday in Yemen during a raid on Al-Qaida and whose remains arrived Wednesday to the United States.

Owens was a SEAL Team 6 member, several outlets reported.

Also Wednesday, Trump held an African-American History Month roundtable at which he said abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895, has “done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed.”

He also cited Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman and civil rights icon Rosa Parks as among the “millions more black Americans who made America what it is today.”

The president had started his day by taking a softer approach than others in his administration over whether to describe as a “ban” his executive order restricting travelers and refugees.

He maintained it was about preventing terrorism.

“Everybody is arguing whether or not it is a BAN,” he tweeted. “Call it what you want, it is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of country!”

The president himself had used the word ban in tweeting Monday about his order temporarily barring the entry of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees from all over.

Spicer and White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway have used the descriptor in recent days, but Spicer on Tuesday condemned those who called it a ban of any sort, saying people ultimately were being permitted into the country.

Spicer said Wednesday that permanent residents no longer require a waiver to enter the United States.

Opponents of the executive order have denounced it as discrimination, unconstitutional and un-American.

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