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Senator talks all night as Democrats fight Trump court nominee

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) speaks to reporters following leaving the Senate floor after delivering a 15 hour speech against Judge Neil Gorsuch on Capitol Hill Washington, D.C., U.S., April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

By Lawrence Hurley and Richard Cowan | Reuters

A Democratic senator delivered a 15-1/2-hour, all-night speech denouncing President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee on Wednesday, joining an effort to block Senate confirmation of Neil Gorsuch in a heated political showdown with Republicans.

Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon began his speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday evening and wrapped up mid-morning on Wednesday. The Senate was expected to vote on Thursday at 11 a.m. to try to end a Democratic procedural effort called a filibuster aimed at blocking Gorsuch’s confirmation to a lifetime post on the court.

Republicans were expected to fall short of being able to halt the filibuster, but said they had the votes needed to then immediately change the Senate rules to prohibit filibusters against Supreme Court nominees. Republicans said Gorsuch would be confirmed on Friday one way or the other.

Senate confirmation of Gorsuch, 49, would reinstate the court’s conservative majority, allow Trump to leave an indelible mark on America’s highest judicial body and fulfill a top campaign promise by the Republican president.

Toward the end of his marathon speech, Merkley looked weary, his suit jacket unbuttoned and his yellow tie billowing out. He stood beside an easel holding graphics that an aide would periodically adjust.

“For the first time in U.S. history, a seat has been stolen from one president and delivered to another in a court-packing scheme. If that were to succeed, it would set a precedent that will haunt the court for decades to come,” Merkley said.

He noted that the Republicans who control the Senate refused last year to consider former Democratic President Barack Obama’s nomination of appellate judge Merrick Garland to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016, the same seat Gorsuch now has been named to fill.

Later on the Senate floor, Republican Senator Cory Gardner countered that such an argument amounted to advocating that “two wrongs must make a right.”

Merkley criticized Gorsuch’s legal opinions and said Gorsuch would become a conservative legal activist on the court.

At one point, Merkley read a 1998 speech by one of the past giants of the Senate, Democrat Robert Byrd, decrying partisanship in Congress.

“I believe that the American people are more than tired of partisan warfare. I believe they wish for less of it from Congress, especially in the Senate, where more statesmanship and a longer view are expected,” Merkley said, quoting Byrd.

The Senate has a lengthy history of long speeches, including notable ones in recent years by Senators Ted Cruz, Chris Murphy and Rand Paul.

The Senate Historical Office listed Merkley’s speech at 15 hours and 26 minutes, the eighth longest in Senate history. The longest came in 1957 when segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes against legislation, later enacted, protecting black voting rights.

‘INTELLECTUAL HEAVYWEIGHT’

On the second day of formal Senate debate on Gorsuch’s nomination, various Republicans called the conservative Colorado-based federal appeals court judge “incredibly qualified,” an “intellectual heavyweight” and “always true to the law.”

“Democrats are bowing to hard-left special interests that can’t get over the results of the election and thus are demanding complete Democratic opposition to everything this president touches,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

Democrats accuse Gorsuch of…

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(Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)

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