ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
When Senate Democrats attempted to block Judge Gorsuch's nomination today, prompting Republicans to respond by invoking the nuclear option, they were not entirely unified. Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who was reelected last November, was one of just a few Democrats who opposed the filibuster even though he does plan to vote against his fellow Coloradoan's confirmation. Senator Bennet joins us now. Welcome to the program.
MICHAEL BENNET: Thank you. It's great to be with you, Robert.
SIEGEL: And we'll come to your decision on the nomination in a minute - but first your opposition to the filibuster. Do I understand your reasoning that you think that Republicans - by prompting Republicans to change the rules so that Supreme Court nominations are no longer subject to filibuster, you could see more extreme candidates being named to the court in the future?
BENNET: Exactly. I think that a much more preferable outcome would have been for everybody to put down their weapons, come to an agreement and live to fight another day. The result of what's happening here now is that Neil Gorsuch will be the next justice of the Supreme Court. That's never been a question because they would invoke the nuclear option and put him on.
And then next week or the week after that, President Trump, if there's a vacancy, can nominate a justice, and that justice will be approved by 51 votes with no Democrats having anything to say about that. And what concerns me about that, Robert, is that the pressure to appoint an extreme justice is going to be greater than it's ever been before.
SIEGEL: But I can imagine since this nomination - in this case, the Democrats had no influence over the outcome. What's really lost? What damage is done to the institution?
BENNET: Well, I think that we have now accepted perpetual warfare as the life of the institution when it comes to Supreme Court nominees, and we've taken one step closer to getting rid of the filibuster for legislation. And both of those concern me. That was not the way the Senate worked even eight years ago when I first got here.
SIEGEL: Are you not confident that what's effectively a 60-vote minimum will stay in force for legislation as opposed to nominations? You're concerned that could be the next step to go.
BENNET: I am concerned about it, and I've seen what the pressure looks like that's applied when a caucus is thinking about whether to change the rules or not. The pressure is considerable.
SIEGEL: Senator Bennet, how do you answer Democrats who say there had to be a protest in the Senate; this was a seat that Merrick Garland was deprived even a hearing for when Republicans wouldn't grant him that and when they did so on partisan grounds; therefore the filibuster was a response?
BENNET: Interestingly, even though I'm from Colorado, I - as is Judge Gorsuch - I know Merrick Garland personally. He's a friend of mine. We've worked together. So I was particularly aggrieved by what happened to him. But my answer is that I think this was the wrong fight to pick because we're ending up with the result of having soon-to-be-Justice Gorsuch on the court and a 51-vote threshold for the next Trump nominees to the Supreme Court. That doesn't feel like a win to me.
SIEGEL: You were the last senator to announce how he would vote on Gorsuch. You said you'll vote against him. And you were the senator who is said to have spent the most time talking with him. In a nutshell, why did you settle on voting against Gorsuch?
BENNET: In a nutshell, it was in the context of the nuclear option being invoked and the belief that the next judges that will be selected by Donald Trump and approved by the Republican majority with no help from the Democratic minority are likely to be very extreme. And I think the balance of the court for my lifetime at least and perhaps two generations of Americans will be changed as a result of what's happened here this week.
SIEGEL: But knowing what the outcome would be, you decided that will cast a no vote against him. What was the last straw that decided you on that?
BENNET: The last straw was the fact that the majority party in the Senate invoked the nuclear option. I could have imagined a circumstance where if we were able to strike a deal, that might have changed my view of the outcome, and therefore it might have changed my vote. But unfortunately we didn't have that opportunity.
SIEGEL: Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, thanks for talking with us today.
BENNET: Thank you very much for having me.
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