Michigan's two Democratic senators who have opposed many of the top nominees of President Donald Trump are facing extra heat before the Senate considers perhaps his most important pick of all — Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republicans and conservative groups are urging Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters to support the nomination or, at a minimum, to not stand in the way of a vote more than a year after the death of conservative Antonin Scalia left the high court with eight justices.
Democrats and their allies, still angry that Republicans blocked then-President Barack Obama's nominee to succeed Scalia last year, equally are pressing the senators to reject Trump's choice.
Majority Republicans will likely need the support of 60 of the Senate's 100 members to move to a simple majority vote on Gorsuch, a federal appeals judge in Colorado. So at least eight Democrats will have to vote with Republicans unless the GOP goes "nuclear" and scraps longstanding Senate rules.
Peters, who has met with Gorsuch, said he has an "open mind" about the judge but was noncommittal on whether he should get an up-or-down vote. He said some of Gorsuch's rulings "raise some flags."
"Certainly he brings a set of qualifications to the job. My problem with him may deal more with some of his judicial philosophy. But again I'm going to wait for a final decision as I hear more," Peters said Tuesday after a Vietnam-era veterans event in Lansing.
Senate Judicial Committee hearings will begin March 20.
Stabenow, who is up for re-election in 2018, said in a statement that she has "deep concerns" about Gorsuch.
"Although Republicans for over a year refused to do their job and blocked the previous Supreme Court nominee, I take my responsibilities as a senator seriously and plan to meet with him and thoroughly review his record," said Stabenow, who has told MSNBC that there should be a 60-vote threshold "just to make sure the person is mainstream."
The Senate GOP's campaign arm aired an ad this month to pressure her to vote for him. It is part of a plan to target Democrats in states that Trump won.
Stabenow and Peters have voted against eight of Trump's 14 choices for top jobs in his administration.
The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative advocacy group that plans to spend $10 million to ensure Gorsuch is confirmed, organized a Wednesday media event at which the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Farm Bureau and others called for his confirmation.
Chamber President and CEO Rich Studley, noting that Gorsuch won Senate approval without objection in 2006, touted him as a well-regarded legal scholar who upholds the Constitution and obeys the rule of law. He also cited his roots in the "heartland of America" as opposed to the coasts and said it is important to get the court back up to full strength.
"A governor or president is entitled to the benefit of the doubt on appointments," Studley said. "The question is with advise and consent not do you agree or disagree with the person and every position ... but are they qualified or well-qualified?"
He said the election is over and "we have to move forward as a country and govern."
But those mobilizing on the opposite side of the political spectrum — including labor unions and environmental, abortion and gay rights organizations that have concerns with Gorsuch's legal record — say Stabenow and Peters must fight the nominee.
Hugh Madden, communications director for the liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan, said Obama's Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland was a moderate while federal appeals judge while Trump's is a "far-right extremist. We would expect a president who clearly lost the popular vote by about 3 million votes, making such an important pick especially under the circumstances by which this seat is still open, would have sought to bring Americans together instead of to further divide."
Dana Nessel, one of the lawyers who helped win a historic legal battle to strike down Michigan's gay marriage ban, said Democrats should filibuster the nomination and insist on 60 votes.
"At a certain point, what options are left? I certainly did not see the Republicans acting reasonably when ... a moderate was put forward," said Nessel, the president of the gay rights organization Fair Michigan. "I don't understand why the Democrats would have to give in at this juncture and allow a person with these extreme views to be confirmed when Merrick Garland was not provided so much as a hearing."