Feb 1, 2017 - Politics & Policy

Payback politics

Photo illustration by Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Politicians are often like kids: "Why did you hit your brother?" "He hit me first."

This is the simplest way to understand how the highly consequential debate over Neil Gorsuch will unfold.

Republicans will argue Gorsuch is a mainstream conservative worthy of confirmation. They will demand fair and speedy hearings and a vote to get him on the bench, tiling the court their way for at least the next four years.

But Democrats are livid Republicans denied a vote on their Supreme Court nominee for almost all of 2016, creating a new, arbitrary precedent of refusing to approve a Justice during an election year. This denied their party a Supreme Court majority, a huge deal for a party now fully out of power.

The pressure to retaliate is immense. Liberals want payback, and have very few ways to exact it: So Democrats might very well hit Republicans simply because Republicans hit them first — and block the nomination, leaving a 4-4 court. They can do this, under current rules, by locking arms and using the 60-vote threshold.

Literally with minutes of the pick, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) announced he would vote no. Soon another eight Democratic senators piled on, signaling deep skepticism or outright opposition. Watch for more to join soon.

If the rest of the party follows...

Republicans, in turn, will likely retaliate with the so-called nuclear option, essentially changing the rules requiring 60 votes for confirmation to 51.

(Click here for how the nuclear option works.)

Since there are 52 Republicans, this would virtually guarantee confirmation — and the holy grail of politics: GOP control of the White House, Senate, the House and the Supreme Court. We can't stress enough how much power this will give President Trump and his party.

And guess what they will do to justify this? Bingo: they will blame the Democrats, who a few years back changed the 60-vote rule for some federal judges and political appointees for their benefit. They will throw quotes like this in Democrats' faces.

So, welcome to the next round of payback politics. "You're an obstructionist!" "I know you are, but what am I?"

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