Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said Friday that she will not support the nomination of conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court and will join a Democratic effort to block his confirmation vote.
McCaskill, a Democrat, is running for re-election in 2018 in a state Trump won by 19 percentage points. She has come under heavy pressure from both the right and left in the weeks leading up to her decision.
Conservative groups such as the Judicial Crisis Network and the National Rifle Association poured millions into ad campaigns urging McCaskill and other red- and purple-state Democrats to confirm Gorsuch. Her party’s liberal base wanted her to join other Democrats in blocking his nomination vote.
With McCaskill’s announcement Friday, Democrats seem to be coalescing around Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s filibuster plans. The Senate’s Republicans would need eight Democrats to vote with them in order to prevent the filibuster, a parliamentary maneuver that would make it difficult for Gorsuch’s nomination to get an up or down vote.
McCaskill said her decision was “really difficult,” adding, “While I have come to the conclusion that I can’t support Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court — and will vote no on the procedural vote and his confirmation — I remain very worried about our polarized politics and what the future will bring, since I’m certain we will have a Senate rule change that will usher in more extreme judges in the future.”
The announcement comes a day after The Kansas City Star published leaked audio of the Democratic senator telling donors last weekend that blocking a vote on Gorsuch could result in someone worse being appointed to the court in the future. In the recording, she said that the Gorsuch “was one of the better ones” on Trump’s list of possible justices to fill the seat that became vacant when Antonin Scalia died last year.
McCaskill’s decision to reject Gorsuch also coincided with the announcement Friday by NARAL Pro-Choice America that the abortion rights group would not endorse any lawmaker who supports Gorsuch when they next seek re-election. NARAL has endorsed McCaskill in the past.
McCaskill’s spokesman, John LaBombard, said in an email that the only factor in McCaskill’s decision was the nominee himself.
The Missouri Republican Party, which had released the audio, accused the senator of bowing to Democratic Party leaders.
“Just days ago, McCaskill was caught on tape saying that she was ‘uncomfortable’ with the filibuster strategy that she now plans to join. When McCaskill loses her re-election bid next year, it will be because she continues to put the interests of the Democrats’ Washington DC party bosses ahead of Missourians,” said Austin Stukins, the party’s executive director, in an email.
Democrats in Missouri cheered McCaskill’s announcement.
“Claire McCaskill fighting on behalf of ordinary, working people in Missouri isn’t surprising — it’s what she’s done every day as our senator,” said Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Webber. “And anybody who wants to launch partisan attacks for her standing against a judge who’s used his courtroom to let the rich and powerful step all over working people, should have to answer for why they’re refusing to stand with working Missourians.”
McCaskill’s statement on Friday stressed Gorsuch’s opinions show he “always puts the little guy under the boot of corporations.”
She said “he is evasive, but his body of work isn’t,” adding, “Whether it is a freezing truck driver or an autistic child, he has shown a stunning lack of humanity. And he has been an activist — for example, writing a dissent on a case that had been settled, in what appears to be an attempt to audition for his current nomination.”
McCaskill said she doesn’t think Gorsuch will deliver on the promises that Trump made to Missourians.
“Donald Trump promised Missourians that he would look out for the little guy, for working people, for the forgotten. He promised he would drain the swamp of the special interests, the lobbyists, and politicians who have overlooked the working people in this country. This judicial nomination breaks those promises,” she said.
McCaskill’s announcement Friday drew swift condemnation from Republicans.
“Sen. McCaskill supports Obamacare, she supports taxpayer funding of abortion, she voted for two of President Obama’s liberal Supreme Court nominees, and now she is refusing to even give Judge Gorsuch a fair up or down vote in the Senate,” said Judicial Crisis Network’s Chief Counsel Carrie Severino in a statement.
“Senator McCaskill is no longer the Senator from Missouri, she is the Senator for Limousine Liberals,” Severino said.
Missouri’s Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley accused McCaskill “of caving to the intense political pressure of the far left” in the wake of the audio’s release.
Hawley, who worked as a clerk on the 10th Circuit during Gorsuch’s first year on the bench, called the judge a “consummate professional” and an “incredibly fair and independent-minded judge.”
He said McCaskill’s decision to filibuster the judge’s nomination was a “real abdication of the Senate’s duty and of her duty.”
McCaskill likely felt a need to stake out her position after moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota announced their plans to support Gorsuch’s nomination this week, said Peverill Squire, a political scientist at the University of Missouri.
“She’s probably better off sticking with the Democrats on this and realizing that there are plenty of issues coming down the road where she can show that she tends to straddle the political middle,” said Squire, noting that voting against Gorsuch will shore up her Democratic base.