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Senate Committee To Vote On Trump's Supreme Court Nominee

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today the Senate moves closer to a confrontation over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. A Senate committee votes on President Trump's nominee today. Assuming Gorsuch makes it out, the full Senate debates him. And Democrats are saying they will insist he must get 60 out of the 100 votes to end debate - meaning eight Democrats would have to join Republicans to end a filibuster. Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin has decided to vote against the nominee, but is still weighing whether he will support a filibuster or not. And he's on the line. Senator, welcome back to the program.

BEN CARDIN: Steve, it's good to be with you. Good morning.

INSKEEP: Good morning. What's your latest thinking?

CARDIN: Well, as I said earlier, last week, looking at Judge Gorsuch, I do not think he's mainstream. I do not believe that he will represent individual interests over business interests. I don't believe he'll be that independent voice that we need on the court. So I'm not going to support his nominee. And I'm going to wait till after the vote today in the committee. But the way that the Republican leadership is handling judges, they have no reason to expect there'll be help on process.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. You're saying that Republicans are behaving in a way that would make you inclined to support a filibuster that would block the nominee? Is that what you're saying?

CARDIN: Well, I'm going to wait to see how they - what happens with today's vote. I know what they did with President Obama, with Merrick Garland's nomination. I know what they did with the lack of filling the vacancies on the D.C. Court of Appeals. They have denied, by majority vote, the ability of a president to make nominations. So at this process, it has not been right. They took away the ability of President Obama to have his nominee considered. And they did not want to fill the Court of Appeals requiring a change in the rules...

INSKEEP: Although, this is an interesting moment, if I might, Senator, because you're saying that what Republicans did was very, very bad. And Democrats certainly did say that at the time. But you are now proposing to do the same thing.

CARDIN: Not necessarily. What I'm suggesting is that the Republicans should work with the Democrats. They shouldn't just come out and say, we're going to do it this way. I urge them to sit down and work with Democrats. And let's work out a process for the fair consideration not only of judges, but how floor consideration is done in this Congress.

INSKEEP: Are you saying - saying what exactly? That you want a different nominee or you want some kind of broader negotiation that involves judges on lower levels? What are you saying?

CARDIN: I'd like to have a different nominee, absolutely. I'd like to have Merrick Garland. I think Merrick Garland should have been voted on. He's a mainstream. He would have easily gotten well over 60 votes. He might have gotten over 80 votes. He was well thought of, and that's the type of justice we need on the Supreme Court of the United States. Yes, I would like to have a different nominee, but I would like to have the majority party working with the minority party to make sure that the rules of the Senate are fair to both sides. We have not seen that...

INSKEEP: But I'm not quite getting this because you're not going to get Merrick Garland. I mean, the nominee is who you have. What is something that you want to put on the table that you think Republicans might deliver?

CARDIN: Well, we did have Merrick Garland. We had Merrick Garland last year, and they did not take up that nomination. We had him for 10 months before the United States Senate. And the Republicans refused to allow a vote - let alone 60 - refused to allow a vote on his nomination. So we still have that issue to resolve. So what do I want now? I want to make sure that the rules of the United States Senate will be fair to both parties. And when the majority party tries to say look, if you don't do it our way, we will change the rules, then they're not working with the Democrats.

INSKEEP: Which is, in fact, what Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has implied, I think, without explicitly saying that they could take away the filibuster in this case, if you use the filibuster. We've also heard from John Thune, one of the top Republicans in the Senate. He talked the other day with our colleague Rachel Martin. He's hoping to return to normal business. Can we listen a little bit of that?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JOHN THUNE: There are an awful lot of people in the country, I think, when you get outside the extreme, the right and the left of the political parties, who just want to see work get done. They want to see you get results. And they want to see government function effectively. And I hope those are the voices that senators will listen to next week.

INSKEEP: Do you agree with that, Senator?

CARDIN: Oh, I absolutely agree with it, but it's interesting that we hear from the Republican leadership only when they're in the majority and they want to get back to normal order. So it's a little bit different. And now, of course, they have both houses of Congress, and they have the president. I agree completely. Elections are over. We need to govern. But we also need to understand that this nominee was selected by pretty extreme groups. They had to go through a so-called litmus test. So this is not a situation where there was an effort made to reach out and come together with a nominee for the Supreme Court that could have gotten broad support.

INSKEEP: In about 10 seconds, if McConnell takes away the filibuster because Democrats resist here, is that an acceptable price for you to pay?

CARDIN: He said - Senator McConnell's going to have to make his own decisions on how he proceeds. The Senate has its traditions. And I would hope that we work together - Democrats and Republicans.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, Senator, thanks very much for joining us this morning. I really appreciate it.

CARDIN: My pleasure. Good talking to you.

INSKEEP: Benjamin Cardin is a Democratic senator from Maryland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.