Sen. Feinstein To Gorsuch: You 'Avoid Specificity Like No One I Have Ever Seen'
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It is Day 3 for Judge Neil Gorsuch and the confirmation hearing that will determine whether he becomes the next justice to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Gorsuch spent nearly 12 hours yesterday answering questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Democrats on the committee have been doing what they can to grill the judge. Although, at this point, it appears there's little they can do to stop him from getting on the high court. NPR's Scott Detrow has been following the hearings, and he joins us in our studio. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.
MARTIN: So yesterday, Democrats really dug through Gorsuch's record as a federal judge, trying to get him to comment also on President Trump's rhetoric. He managed to avoid any real stumbles. How are things going this morning?
DETROW: Well, you mentioned nearly 12 hours of testimony. But Democrats are feeling really frustrated about this. They feel like after all of that testimony, they still don't know where Gorsuch stands on really key issues. Dianne Feinstein is the top Democrat on the committee. She got into this during her question this morning.
(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)
DIANNE FEINSTEIN: What worries me is you have been very much able to avoid any specificity like no one I have ever seen before. And maybe that's a virtue. I don't know. But for us on this side, knowing where you stand on major questions of the day is really important.
DETROW: And this is very intentional on Gorsuch's part. Nominees from both parties who sit before the committee are very careful not to commit themselves one way or another. They say that's critical because they do not want to go into cases biased.
MARTIN: And this is the same game that happens every time there's a nominee to the court, right? The opposition party tries to get them to weigh in on their key issues. And the judge - the nominees say, I can't because I don't want to be biased. So this is breaking on predictable partisan lines.
DETROW: Right, and when control of the Senate or the presidency flips, the script goes the other way.
DETROW: And that is something that Lindsey Graham was very quick to point out when he spoke after Feinstein this morning.
(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)
LINDSEY GRAHAM: It's OK to criticize Trump. But apparently it's OK for you to slander this man, and none of you say a damn thing about it. I don't think it's OK. I don't like what's gone on here. I don't like where the Senate's heading. But there's nothing I can do about it other than be myself. So, Judge, I just want to say, I think you're qualified. I think the answers that you can't give us come from the fact that you understand that if you gave those answers, you would compromise your ability to fairly decide cases that may become before you in the future.
DETROW: And this is something that Graham has focused a lot on when he's had a chance to speak over the last few days, really frustrated with the fact that the Senate seems to get more and more partisan every year and that the window is closed for the Senate agreeing, well, you seem like a qualified person. Let's vote for you with near unanimity.
MARTIN: So the Democratic leader in the Senate yesterday, Chuck Schumer, said all these hearings should be put on hold until the FBI's investigation over possible connection between Trump campaign and Russia is over. What is the strategy for Democrats right now?
DETROW: The strategy is kind of tricky to figure out because they're in a tough spot. By and large, Gorsuch has not slipped up. He comes across as conservative, sure. But no one's really questioning his qualifications or resume. That is something Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was very quick to point out this morning on the Senate floor.
(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)
MITCH MCCONNELL: I hope our Democratic friends take notice and give him the fair consideration he deserves, not invent more excuses not to. Because Judge Gorsuch has performed exceedingly well, some Democrats are desperately trying to come up with a reason to delay the process, just as they've done all year on other nominations.
DETROW: You know, Democrats still very upset about Merrick Garland never getting a Senate vote here. But unless they're prepared to filibuster every single Trump nominee for his entire term, that's not something they can really fix.
MARTIN: All right, so briefly, what next? What other obstacles does Gorsuch have to get through to get to the court?
DETROW: It's going to move pretty quickly. Chuck Grassley wants a committee vote within the next few weeks. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he wants a full Senate vote on Gorsuch by early April.
MARTIN: And it's looking like that will happen at this point?
DETROW: Yes. The question is, do eight Democrats vote to go forward with the nomination if not vote for him finally. We don't have a set number of that yet.
MARTIN: NPR's Scott Detrow. He's been following the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch. Thanks so much, Scott.
DETROW: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.