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Opinion: Irreconcilability in Washington

US President Donald Trump has named a Supreme Court nominee. Whether he is confirmed or not is an open question. A cold wind of irreconcilability is blowing through Washington, says Miodrag Soric.

How is this all supposed to end? Donald Trump has been in office less than two weeks and already he and Washington's politicians have been sucked into an eddy of animosity and irreconcilability. The only thing that all players seem to have in common is an inability to even listen to the other side. Democrats and Republicans alike are choosing to put that which separates them ahead of that which unites.

The most recent example of this is Donald Trump's pick for the US Supreme Court. Democrats vowed to block the pick before the president even announced his name. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth: As is well known, Republicans did the same in 2016 and successfully blocked former President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

Last year, Republicans were obstinate about the fact that Obama's choice was not conservative enough to place him on the bench. Now, Democrats are arguing that Trump's choice, 49-year-old Neil Gorsuch, is too conservative. 

Democrats shudder

It is an important nomination, because the Supreme Court plays a key role in the US political system. Justices named to the Court serve for life. It is up to the Court to decide if the president and congress are acting in accordance with the constitution. Their decisions affect the political, social and cultural lives of all citizens, for instance in areas such as minority and reproductive rights.

Soric Miodrag Kommentarbild App

DW Washington correspondent Miodrag Soric

Several Supreme Court justices could well retire or die during the next several years. The thought that President Trump could appoint replacements makes Democrats shudder. It fuels their resistance toward the new administration, and against this Supreme Court nominee. Neil Gorsuch will have to convince at least eight Democratic senators of his suitability if he is to be confirmed.

Supreme Court stalemate

Currently, a cold wind of irreconcilability is blowing through the halls of Congress. It is hard to predict whether some Democrats will vote in favor of Gorsuch's appointment. Things that would argue for his approval would be his impeccable academic resume at elite universities in America and abroad, his humble demeanor, and his work at Denver's US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, where he currently serves. His conservative views on topics such as abortion, gun rights or assisted suicide could work against him.  

Since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year, the Supreme Court has been in a stalemate: Four conservative justices and four liberal justices are currently on the bench. Should Gorsuch be confirmed, the conservatives would have the upper hand.

'Nuclear option' as last resort

It is no surprise that Trump is expecting Republicans to get his candidate "through the Senate." The pressure that conservatives are putting on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is intense. As the ranking Republican, it is up to him to convince Democrats to change their minds. Should he be unsuccessful in that bid, his only choice will be to deploy the so-called "nuclear option:" McConnell could change Senate procedural rules. By doing so, a simple Republican majority would be enough to confirm Gorsuch's appointment.

Yet such a victory would also come at a high political price: One day Democrats will be back in control of the Senate, and they would then be the beneficiaries of the rule change.

In contrast, it would be in everyone's best interest if both sides could once again cooperate with one another - and not just on the issue of appointing a new Supreme Court justice.

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