Two major political issues are bouncing around right now in the U.S. Senate. The first is the proposed American Care Act, which would repeal and replace Obamacare. Right now, it appears down for the count, with 21 Republicans in the House of Representatives publicly against the bill and five more House Republicans reportedly leaning toward “no.” In the Senate, two Republicans have publicly said they will not vote for it, and several more seem substantially inclined to join them. The second issue is Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, who is undergoing his second day of testimony before the Senate.
Gorsuch, while still decidedly unpopular among liberals, is holding his own during this confirmation hearing. In comparison to other Donald Trump nominees, he is a relative moderate and, soothingly, has an attractive resume. With Ivy League credentials, including graduating in the same Harvard Law class as former President Barack Obama, and time as both a Justice Department employee and federal appeals judge, plus a stint in the private sector, Gorsuch appears to be a consummate professional jurist.
With Gorsuch, Trump chose well. He did not antagonize the left by picking a radical and/or rookie like Betsy DeVos or Ben Carson. But, having blocked Barack Obama’s own Supreme Court nominee back in 2016, the Republican Party will win no love from Dems. Controversially, the Republican-controlled Senate refused to vote on Obama nominee Merrick Garland and insisted that the next president, who ended up being Donald Trump, should pick the individual to replace the deceased Antonin Scalia on the bench.
Democrats have not forgotten the stonewalling, but do not have the power to stop Gorsuch’s confirmation. If a controversial neophyte like Betsy DeVos managed to get approved as Secretary of Education, Neil Gorsuch would easily net the GOP’s 52 votes in the Senate. But the Dems can make it tough, especially if they decide to filibuster. With the Senate strictly divided by party lines, the Republicans will not be able to muster the required 60 votes to end a filibuster.
To prevent a filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will have to exercise the “nuclear option” of changing the standing Senate rules. Although McConnell has the votes to do it, since the GOP has a majority, the controversial maneuver could hurt the Republican Party’s public image at a time when it is already eroded. It would look like the Republicans are changing the rules in the middle of the game. In addition to reeking of unfair play, such a move could also hurt the Republicans later if and when the Democrats gain control of the Senate.
Mitch McConnell doesn’t want to risk going down in history as the Senate Majority Leader who destroyed the Senate’s traditions… and gave Democrats the guilt-free ability to shut down future Republican filibusters. The Dems would always be able to point the finger and say that it was the GOP that changed the rules and should have to reap what they sowed.A bit of political wheeling and dealing could benefit both parties at this critical juncture. With the Republicans’ healthcare bill almost certainly dead on arrival, the GOP could float Democrats a deal: They will shelve the Obamacare repeal for a few years if the Dems pledge to not put up a fight over Neil Gorsuch. Essentially, the GOP would be trading a year or two of time on healthcare reform in exchange for less bad press over Gorsuch’s Senate confirmation.
The deal helps the GOP by trading a bill that’s basically dead for smooth sailing on Gorsuch. With Donald Trump’s controversies already bruising Republicans’ midterm performance in 2018, a bit of not-bad press would be highly beneficial to conservatives in Congress. A deal that gets Democrats to quiet down about Trump’s Supreme Court nominee could give the GOP time to regroup and re-strategize without the media’s hostile scrutiny.
Democrats are aided by the deal as well. They get to trade a confirmation vote they will almost certainly lose in order to buy time to strategize on healthcare. They can plot to convince the GOP to leave Obamacare alone, reform Obamacare rather than repeal it, or negotiate with the Republicans to pass a newer, more liberal-friendly Obamacare substitute.
Extra time on healthcare could benefit both parties by giving them time to compete for public approval. The GOP was caught flat-footed on Obamacare repeal-and-replace, and it shows. Agreeing to give Democrats a year or two before trying to repeal Obamacare again would give Republican leaders time to get their ducks in a row. Democrats would win a quick PR victory, but then would have to hit the drawing board to figure out how to propose making Obamacare friendlier to consumers and medical providers.
Though the GOP would take a PR hit by tabling the American Care Act, and the mocking of the liberal punditry would sting, taking a knee would be less painful than a failed vote in either the House or Senate.
Both sides: Be smart, take the deal.