STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Neil Gorsuch faces his first test today. The Senate committee votes on his nomination for the Supreme Court. But that is not the big test. Republicans, who support Gorsuch, have the votes to get President Trump's nominee to the full Senate. The question is, what happens then? Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to push for his party to filibuster. Supreme Court nominees require 60 votes to end a filibuster, meaning that eight Democrats would have to join Republicans and vote to do that. There are currently only three Democrats who say they would.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has said that Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed no matter what, suggesting he's considering changing the rules. Our colleague Rachel Martin spoke about Judge Gorsuch's prospects with Senator John Thune of South Dakota, who is the third-ranking Republican in the Senate.
RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: You need eight Democrats, at least, to get this confirmation through. If the Democrats choose to filibuster and you can't get those eight votes, it could force Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, to change the rules so that you could just bypass that filibuster altogether. Does that concern you at all?
JOHN THUNE: Well, obviously, nobody wants to see that be the ultimate outcome, Rachel. I hope, in the end, that people will come to the conclusion that it's in the best interest of the Senate and the Supreme Court that we preserve the tradition in the Senate that's been in place for the last 230 years.
MARTIN: What kind of precedent would it set if Mitch McConnell has no choice other than to use the quote, "nuclear option"?
THUNE: Well, I mean, I think it changes things in terms of the Supreme Court nominees going forward. And the Democrats back in 2013 changed the rules in the Senate to allow lower court and appellate court nominees to be confirmed, and executive branch nominees to be confirmed at 51 votes. So they sort of opened the door. And my view is is the more that we can do to maintain the heritage that we have in the Senate, the better off we will be.
MARTIN: So have you had conversations with your colleagues across the aisle to try to move them to your side?
THUNE: Some. I mean, I think that what they're running into is just that they've got so much pressure on their left. I mean, the outside groups, the donors, the activists in the Democrat Party are agitating for a fight. They don't want to allow a vote. But there are an awful lot of people in the country, I think, who just want to see government function effectively. And I hope those are the voices that senators will listen to.
MARTIN: And I hear you trying to be optimistic about this from your party's perspective. At least in the way you're framing it, it doesn't sound like you are going to have the votes from the Democrats you need to avoid a filibuster.
THUNE: We'll see. I mean, I don't think anything is a certainty until you actually get to that vote. There's a lot of hot rhetoric going into these big votes, but when push comes to shove, we'll see. I'm still hopeful that there will be. And maybe you're right. Maybe it's overly optimistic.
MARTIN: What does this say about this moment, when you can't get a nominee through unless your party holds the White House and a majority in Congress?
THUNE: Well, I still hope for a return to some normalcy coming out this election. It was a divisive, combative election. But I do think that if you look at at least the parallels historically, in the first term of a president, when President Clinton was elected, he got both Justices Ginsburg and Breyer on the court without a Republican filibuster. And in President Obama's first term, he got Justices Sotomayor and Kagan on the court without a Republican filibuster.
I just don't know how you can really attack Judge Gorsuch. He has really acquitted himself extremely well through the confirmation process and certainly has strong support among both Republicans and Democrats at any place that he has ever worked. If you look at his record, I don't think you can come to any other conclusion.
MARTIN: Senator John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, the number-three-ranking Republican in the Senate. Senator Thune, thank you so much for your time.
THUNE: Good to be with you. Thanks, Rachel.
INSKEEP: Senator Thune was speaking with our own Rachel Martin.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.