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Republicans Change Rules To Clear Gorsuch Confirmation


Let's hear the way Congress is taking another epic week. Our congressional correspondent Sue Davis is tracking the response to airstrikes in Syria and the nuclear option, as it's called, at home. She's in our studios. Hi, Sue.


INSKEEP: So do lawmakers, broadly speaking, support the airstrikes on that airfield in Syria?

DAVIS: Yes. The initial response from Congress has been support for the airstrikes and support for the president's authority to conduct those strikes. The next question that's already being raised is what is the broader strategy here? And if they want to commit greater military resources to Syria, does he need to come to Congress and ask for permission? And there are members in both parties - and this has been a debate running since the Iraq War - that the mission needs to be redefined and that Congress should have some skin in this game.

INSKEEP: We heard from Marco Rubio overnight. And I'm paraphrasing here, but I believe he used the word hope in his statement. I support these airstrikes, but I hope there's a strategy here. Ben Cardin, who's the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, is saying we want the president to work in conjunction with Congress, which is reminding me that when President Obama wanted congressional support for airstrikes in Syria several years ago, it looked like he wasn't going to get it.

DAVIS: Exactly. And there was tremendous Republican opposition to President Obama's actions. Are we going to see that now that we have a Republican president in the White House? Also complicating this is this isn't exactly what President Trump campaigned on - right? - saying...


DAVIS: ...It was not the job of the U.S. to solve the world's problems. And from other corners of the Republican Party, the people that voted for Donald Trump, I think they might be a little bit confused this morning. And you already have Republicans like Rand Paul from Kentucky saying he believes what Donald Trump did was illegal. So it's going to be sort of a scattered response from Congress. And it's obviously not an easy path forward.

INSKEEP: We're talking with Sue Davis, NPR's congressional correspondent on a dramatic week, a dramatic day of news, including this. Today, the Senate is voting to confirm - we expect to confirm - Neil Gorsuch to a seat on the United States Supreme Court. And the reason they're able to have that vote is because of what happened yesterday, when Senate Republicans used the nuclear option, essentially changing the rules of the Senate so that they didn't have to get 60 votes to break a filibuster. They can go ahead with a simple majority vote.

DAVIS: Right.

INSKEEP: How mad are Democrats?

DAVIS: You know, they kind of wanted this. (Laughter) So they wanted this showdown. There was almost unanimous opposition to Neil Gorsuch to the court. And while there's talk that this is changing the character of the Senate, it's weakening the power of the filibuster, there was also an argument from some corners the Democratic Party that said, you know, they wanted to do this. They also weakened the filibuster rules in 2013 to make it easier for other nominees and saying it's changing the way the Senate operates, but perhaps it is making the Senate more functional.

INSKEEP: Is that because of long-standing frustration that the minority - whoever has been in the minority - has blocked the majority again and again and again?

DAVIS: Yes. And that particularly in the past 10 to 15 years, the rise of the use of the filibuster has kind of just created this logjam in the Senate. And the Senate has become more polarized. You know, red is redder; blue is bluer. And there's fewer areas of bipartisan consensus, which is what, in theory, the Senate was supposed to be designed for. And it's becoming just a more partisan chamber like the House.

INSKEEP: But is the filibuster going to remain in place for ordinary legislation?

DAVIS: It does for now. There is a question of, is the legislative filibuster next? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says no. Most senators say they don't support it. But when they changed the filibuster rules just four years ago, people were saying, well, we'd never touch the Supreme Court filibuster. And here we are today.

INSKEEP: Isn't there something really powerful, though, in the organization of the Senate because respect for the rights of the minority is part of America, part of the system? And any one senator, in theory, could stop the whole Senate.

DAVIS: Right. And if you erode that, do we just become more of a majority-driven Congress? And that changes the way Congress functions. Now, whether that's a good or bad thing, we don't know.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, we'll find out, I suppose. Sue, thanks very much.

DAVIS: You bet.

INSKEEP: That's NPR congressional correspondent Sue Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.