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The Senate’s Big Week That Wasn’t

Senators fill the week before Gorsuch comes to the floor

Without a health care bill to consider, senators are waiting for Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to hit the floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Without a health care bill to consider, senators are waiting for Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to hit the floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senators were gearing up for a marathon week of debate on a House-passed health care measure, including the peculiar ritual of voting on an unlimited number of amendments known as the vote-a-rama, but political reality has laid that plan to waste. 

The House’s failure to pass a rollback of the 2010 health care law has left senators burning time until the Judiciary Committee sends to the floor the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to be an associate justice on the Supreme Court.

At a Judiciary panel meeting Monday, Chairman Charles E. Grassley announced that the nomination would be held over for a week.

Gorsuch was on the committee’s agenda along with Rod Rosenstein to be deputy attorney general and Rachel Brand to be associate attorney general.

“I understand that the minority would like to hold them over,” said Grassley, an Iowa Republican. “All three nominations will be held over for one week.”

Judiciary Committee rules allow any senator to request a nomination to be held for one week, meaning the committee is expected to report Gorsuch to the floor on April 3, with debate set up for the following day.

“Last week, we got to see up-close how thoughtful, articulate, and humble he is. He is clearly deeply committed to being a fair and impartial judge. And he isn’t willing to compromise that independence to win votes in the Senate,” Grassley said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said her colleagues are in a “terrible position” when it comes to considering Gorsuch’s nomination.

The California Democrat reminded the panel that President Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat, Judge Merrick Garland, was denied a hearing and a vote.

“You can imagine, on our side, the depth of feeling that came about during this period of time,” Feinstein said. “From March and April, there was plenty of time to handle a nominee.”

She also echoed a Democratic criticism that millions had been spent to support the GOP effort to keep the seat open until after last year’s presidential election, and that “dark money” interests wanted to see Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

That’s a reference to outside groups that spent heavily to oppose Garland’s nomination from even being considered by the Judiciary Committee. Many of the same GOP-favoring entities are running ads in support of Gorsuch.

Republicans are gearing up for the likelihood that they will need to use the “nuclear option” and change Senate precedent so that Gorsuch may be confirmed with a simple majority.

“This much is clear: If our Democratic colleagues choose to hold up this nominee, then they’re acknowledging that they’ll go to any length — any length — to stop any Supreme Court nominee of a Republican president,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday.

On the agenda

The immediate business for the Senate will be approving the accession of Montenegro to NATO. After Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul objected to quick action, McConnell moved to limit debate before senators left town last week.

Senators voted overwhelmingly to limit debate on the treaty Monday evening, meaning there’s a vote likely late Tuesday or early Wednesday to finalize the action.

McConnell focused his opening remarks Monday on Montenegro and Gorsuch, but he did not address the health care failure in the House.

After finishing work on Montenegro, McConnell may call up one of the remaining resolutions available under the Congressional Review Act to upend regulations promulgated late in the Obama administration.

Among those are the venting and flaring rule from the Bureau of Land Management. While the resolution only needs a simple-majority, a person familiar with the vote-counting effort said several Republican senators had yet to decide about how to vote if the CRA measure gets called up.

Another option would be for GOP leaders to bring to the floor the nomination of Elaine C. Duke to be deputy secretary of Homeland Security.

The plan to take up the replacement for the 2010 health care overhaul might have been derailed even before the House’s implosion on Friday.

GOP aides familiar with the budget process said the Senate would have been unlikely to take up any reconciliation bill passed by the House to repeal the health care law until May anyway because of the need to wait for reports from the Congressional Budget Office.

The week leading into the scheduled two-week Easter recess has long been reserved for the Gorsuch nomination.

When senators return from the recess, the urgent business will be clearing legislation to keep the government funded past April 28.

Bridget Bowman and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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