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Sen. Chris Murphy On The Democrats' Gorsuch Opposition Plans

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A showdown in the Senate is looming over the nomination to the Supreme Court of Neil Gorsuch. Many Democrats have said they plan to try and block his nomination with a filibuster. That's a tactic that's virtually unheard of for Supreme Court nominees. Senate Republicans, though, may halt the filibuster in its tracks with the nuclear option. It's the dramatic-sounding name for a way to change Senate rules that allows for a straight majority vote on Supreme Court nominees. If they go that route, it could have consequences that are, well, nuclear. I'm joined now by Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut. He opposes Neil Gorsuch's nomination, and he plans to join the filibuster.

Senator, thanks for being with us today.

CHRIS MURPHY: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this seems like a fierce partisan fight. Why not just allow the vote to go forward?

MURPHY: Well, there will be a vote. And the fact is is that we don't know yet whether Gorsuch will get the 60 votes necessary to proceed. But this is a fairly extraordinary justice who will likely be the most conservative of all nine, who may be bringing some fairly radical views of the law to the court, who's often been an outlier in the decisions that he's made on the appellate court. And so I think - it's not newsworthy that it's going to be a very controversial vote. It's going to be a very divisive vote.

The fact of the matter is that, you know, most every Supreme Court justice has gotten 60 votes. Clarence Thomas is an exception. And, you know, the Senate, you know, now, whether you like it or not, effectively does require 60 votes for virtually everything to proceed. That is a Mitch McConnell innovation on the court when he was in the minority. That precedent that's been long established will be applied to Gorsuch. If he doesn't...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm curious here, though. Is the filibuster, you know, revenge over the refusal by Republicans to consider Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, for the bench?

MURPHY: No, absolutely...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, you say he's not qualified. But others have said that they are angry at what happened before.

MURPHY: Well, I'm angry at what happened before. And I do find it terribly ironic that Republicans are crowing about a change in precedent when they denied the ability for Barack Obama to be able to nominate a Supreme Court justice for the entirety of his last year. But this isn't retribution. This is a recognition that, you know, the precedent in the Senate has changed over the last decade. And now 60 votes is necessary in order for major pieces of legislation or major appointments to proceed. Now, I'm someone that thinks that we should have a conversation (inaudible)...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We...

MURPHY: ...Rules of the Senate. I don't think that should happen in the context of a highly controversial nomination or piece of legislation. I think we should step back and make that decision separate from one particular controversy. But I think that's a worthwhile conversation to have at some point.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We seem to be having a little bit of trouble with your line. But I want to ask you, sir - isn't this a dangerous tactic, though? You know, the Democrats seem to be committed to the filibuster. The Republicans say they'll likely change the rules, taking the nuclear option. Aren't you concerned about the long-term ramifications of this? I mean, you know, nominees in the future could be increasingly ideological. And the party in power will get exactly what they want without compromise.

MURPHY: Well, I don't know how much more ideological you can get than Neil Gorsuch. This is somebody who, you know, already advertises that he's going to bring some pretty radical views to the court, suggests that the Supreme Court should no longer give deference to the administration in interpreting law, which would allow for every justice to bring their political views onto the court. So, you know, I think this is a pretty radical nominee as far as I can tell.

And yes, ultimately, you know, as I said, I think we should step back and have a conversation about whether the existing rules of the Senate make sense. But, you know, for as long as I've been in the Senate, everything that's been meaningful has required 60 votes. And that's going to be the rule for Gorsuch as Republicans held it as the rule for everything meaningful that President Obama and Democrats wanted to get done.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly, sir - we only have about 30 seconds - but doesn't this come at a great cost to the party, to the country's institutions if you push this through?

MURPHY: Well, I mean, what is of potential great cost to the institutions and to the party in the country is the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice who may ultimately unwind some important consumer protections, who will continue to transfer power from...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK.

MURPHY: ...Regular people to corporations and special interests. That's what a lot of us see as the real threat.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Chris Murphy, he's the junior senator from Connecticut.

Thank you.

MURPHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.