The Senate Democratic leader says President Donald Trump should put forward a more mainstream candidate instead of GOP senators trying to change the rules.

WASHINGTON — As he tries to line up enough votes to block President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, the Senate Democratic leader is strongly warning Republicans against changing Senate rules to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch.

 

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer lost two in his caucus Thursday when Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said they would vote for the Colorado jurist. But Schumer still appears to be on track to amass enough Democratic votes to block the nomination, which could prompt Republicans to change Senate rules so that Gorsuch could be confirmed.

 

Schumer, of New York, had tough words for his Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in an interview with The Associated Press.

 

"He's bound and determined to change the rules and trample on Senate tradition" to get a conservative nominee approved, Schumer said of McConnell. "Let the public judge whether that is a good thing."

 

Manchin and Heitkamp join all 52 Senate Republicans, who argue the Denver-based federal appeals court judge is impeccably qualified to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the high court. Republicans accuse Democrats, and Schumer in particular, of playing politics by opposing Gorsuch.

 

The Senate confirmation vote is expected late next week. Unless 60 senators support Gorsuch — which would require six more Democrats to join Heitkamp and Manchin — Republicans would have to unilaterally change Senate rules to allow Gorsuch to be confirmed with a simple majority vote in the 100-member Senate.

 

That scenario is looking increasingly inevitable, even though it is known on Capitol Hill as the "nuclear option" because it would amount to a dramatic departure from Senate norms of bipartisanship and collegiality. Although McConnell has yet to formally announce plans to take the step, Republican senators fully expect it and are prepared, even if regretful.

 

Schumer conducted back-to-back interviews with several major news outlets Thursday to argue that it will be the fault of Republicans, not Democrats, if the rules change happens.

 

"Senate Republicans are acting like if Gorsuch doesn't get 60 votes they have no choice but to change the rules," Schumer said. "That is bunk." He claimed that Trump should produce a more mainstream nominee instead.

 

As for Manchin and Heitkamp, Schumer said: "I've made my arguments to every member including them and each member is going to make his or her own decision."

 

In his statement, Manchin said: "I hold no illusions that I will agree with every decision Judge Gorsuch may issue in the future, but I have not found any reasons why this jurist should not be a Supreme Court Justice."

 

Heitkamp said she expects Gorsuch to follow through on his promise of an independent judiciary that "acts as a proper check and balance on the other two branches of government."

 

In all, 35 Democrats have said so far that they definitely will oppose Gorsuch.