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Supreme Court nominee takes center stage amid fierce Democratic backstage action

Michael Doyle and Lindsay Wise, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Judge Neil Gorsuch introduced himself on Capitol Hill as a "faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great nation" on Monday, but his road to a Supreme Court seat still runs through Missouri, Florida and eight other states where vulnerable Democratic senators face re-election next year.

Republicans praised and Democrats doubted Gorsuch during the four-hour Senate Judiciary Committee hearing devoted to opening statements, including one by Gorsuch where he identified the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia as a mentor.

"In my decade on the bench, I've tried to treat all who come before me fairly and with respect," Gorsuch said, adding that "my decisions have never reflected a judgment about the people before me, only a judgment about the law, the facts and the issue in each particular case."

The 49-year-old Gorsuch faces pointed questioning Tuesday and, perhaps, Wednesday in his bid to replace Scalia. He faces, as well, a threatened filibuster, which the Senate would need 60 votes to end. Republicans have 52 seats.

That would put the power to halt the nomination in Democratic hands, but there's little talk of that strategy among Senate Democratic leaders. While there might be an effort to filibuster, it doesn't seem as if it will be rigorously enforced by the leaders, who know they need to protect vulnerable members, particularly in 10 states President Donald Trump won last year where the party's senators are up for re-election next year.

Those Democrats are under particular pressure from both ends of the political spectrum on the Gorsuch nomination, noted Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for The Cook Political Report, where she tracks U.S. Senate and governors' races.

These vulnerable Democrats have to master a "high wire act" of not angering the voters in their states versus not angering their party, Duffy said.

"I'm not really sure that there's a middle ground there," she said. "Somebody's going to get pissed off and members have to decide, frankly, which is more important to them."

Some Democrats may vote to end a filibuster but also vote against Gorsuch. If a filibuster is sustained, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., could move to change Senate rules so filibusters can no longer be used against Supreme Court nominees.

Rhetorically, though, Democrats will be aggressive. Senators foreshadowed on Monday their intent to press Gorsuch on hot-button issues including the abortion rights secured in the high court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. He has served since 2006 on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, participating by his count in more than 2,700 appeals.

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